When a Child Can’t Cope

A few months ago a family story made big news in a city newspaper.  

One Sunday a married couple decided to take their small son to a restaurant. It wasn’t long before the young boy started to make a fuss. He wouldn’t sit quietly in his chair and do what he was told, and soon he was the centre of attention. Fellow diners complained about the child’s noise and behaviour, and the restaurant manager felt compelled to ask the parents to leave. They were very upset. They felt they had a right to stay. The parents must have gone to the media with what they perceived to be a story of discrimination. When the story became public news, everyone was discussing the situation. Everyone had an opinion.

“The parents should have taken the child out of the restaurant. In fact they shouldn’t have brought him in the first place. People go out to dinner to relax and enjoy themselves. How can they do this when a child is screaming right next to them? The parents were inconsiderate of those around them.”

But just as many people disagreed.

“Parents need to get out of the house and enjoy a meal like everyone else. Why shouldn’t they be welcome in a restaurant with a child? Other people need to be more considerate of the needs of parents. They should be more tolerant and not so concerned with themselves.”

The parents, the fellow diners… Why was no one talking about the child? What were his needs? How was he feeling? Was he trying to tell everyone something by screaming?

This morning a child cried at Mass. It’s a familiar situation. You’ve probably heard all the discussion before. Everyone has an opinion.

“No one can hear a word when a child cries. The parents should remove her from the church. It’s the considerate thing to do.”
Or…

“Children should be made to feel welcome at Mass. Jesus said, ‘Let the children come unto Me.’”

But what about the child? Was she saying, “I don’t want to be here because I am too young to understand and I haven’t the patience to sit still for so long?”

I’ve heard some parents say, “It doesn’t matter what the child wants. If she can’t sit still she must learn. If we remove her from the church every time she cries, she will only learn that crying gets her what she wants. She will become manipulative. She will never learn to sit quietly.”

I wonder if that’s true. I took all my children out of Mass as soon as they became agitated. And what did they learn? Perhaps my children never learned to sit still in church. They probably never learned to love the Mass and pay attention.

I look along the line of children sitting in our pew. They are all quiet and attentive. Yes, I know… they are older. They should know how to behave at their ages. But it’s been that way for many years. 

Now you might say, “I kept my children in Mass even when they protested, and they are all attentive and love the Mass just like your children do.” I don’t mean to criticise. I don’t want to argue about the end result. All I’m saying is…

If it distresses you to deal with a crying child caught in a situation where she is unable to cope, perhaps it’s quite okay to ‘give in’ to her crying and ‘indulge’ her needs.


I am sure children don’t need to be forced to do anything. They will learn to do what is right and necessary when they are ready if they are treated with love and respect.

I am remembering…

I walk through the church door. Gemma-Rose is in my arms. She starts to squirm even before I have entered a pew. Just as I drop to my knees, she opens her mouth wide and a loud cry hits my ear. I sigh as I gather up my toddler and make a hasty exit. Mass hasn’t even begun and we are on our way back out the door. 

I am thinking, “She’ll never learn to sit still if I keep taking her out.” But deep inside I know that’s not true. I know that today I am just tired. I don’t want to spend another hour looking at the daisies in the presbytery garden. Today I want to stay in Mass like everyone else. Today I want my child to sit quietly by my side. But I know that day will come…

And it did.


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Comments

  1. Reply

    Oh, Sue. If it would be so easy, you know, one recipe what works for all in every situation, I would use it for sure! I've had kids sitting very still at Church and people saying "Aren't they lovely. So quite and well behaved." Other times a child of mine would be so restless or start crying. I wandered what these quick judging people would think now? When a child is noisy or starts screaming, I or an other family member would leave the Church. I my self couldn't let a child scream at Church, beacuse I hate the feeling of disurbing or even just getting unwanted attention. But how ever your child turns out when older, I believe depends on other things.

    1. Reply

      Bernice,

      I am also sure there is no one recipe that works for all in every situation. I do agree with you! But maybe we can try and listen to each individual child and respond to their needs.

      I don't think I was aiming to write a post with the answer to the perpetual problem of keeping children quiet at Mass. We all know our own children best, and I was writing about my children, using their story as an illustration: I have to try and see the world through my children's eyes. I wanted to present a third view of a common situation. Not the view of the parent or the view of others from outside the family, but the view of the child herself.

      I know my stories are too simple. I think a whole book could be written about such things! I just wanted to bring up a few points I have been thinking about.

      Anyway, thank you so much for stopping to add to the conversation. I appreciate that!

    2. Reply

      Bernice,

      I gave myself the feeling my stories are too simple, not you! Oh I know I could make them a whole lot more complicated. There is so much that could be said. I do wonder if others will think I've left out a lot of relevant points. But we can always chat more about those in the comments box! Thank you so much for your understanding. You are always very kind. God bless!

    3. Reply

      I totaly agree, the best is to try and listen to each individual child! This is what parents some times forget (including me). We are too concerened about what others think. Your posts aren't "too simple". I hope I did not give you that feeling! I like reading your posts, they are an inspiration in my daily life.

  2. Reply

    You're such a thoughtful person Sue, one of the reasons why I love reading your blog 🙂
    I feel the same, when I hear a child cry, my first instinct is to think why aren't his/her carers listening to him? Often the wailing is the last resort when all other calls for attention or signs of unease have fallen on deaf ears.
    My kids are usually well behaved in restaurants, but there comes a moment where they get fidgety and restless. And that's when we start making a move. They've been patient for a long time, and we've all had a lovely meal, why ruin the evening by forcing them to sit down for extraordinarily long period, which are so unnatural to 4 and 6 year olds? My kids also don't cope well with noises, so if a room is crowded and noisy, we'll often have brief visits outdoors to get some fresh air, if it's going to be a long meal (like a big family affair). I feel it's fair to them and it's also courteous towards others.

    1. Reply

      Sara,

      I can just imagine you enjoying a meal with your children! Yes, knowing the limits of your children and working around them helps everyone have a good time. I think we all feel better in social situations, when we take breaks and get some fresh air. Sometimes my husband wanders away from the adult conversation to take time out with the kids. Sometimes I do too. I need the break as much as the children. There's some situations I don't cope well in… I go to pieces in crowded and noisy places, and really can't think properly. If it was allowed I'd probably cry like a young child! I can just imagine the looks on my girls' faces if I did that! I try to avoid those situations that make me feel unable to cope, so I guess it's not unreasonable to take children's needs into account when deciding where we are going and how long to stay.

      Thank you so much for stopping by. Sara, your kind words have made my day. Thank you!

  3. Reply

    We always took our babies or toddlers out if it was evident that they were not going to be able to be quiet. We would usually take it in turns so that at least one of us could keep the other children in Mass. We would try to stay within the church building if possible, like up the back, as often the child would quiet after being walked around. With an older toddler who was simply misbehaving we have been strict – if they were taken out of Mass they would be made to sit or stand, not run around like a ticket to freedom. I think it's absolutely essential for a child to be taught to sit quietly in Mass and pay attention. It doesn't matter whether they understand it or not, understanding comes later after good habits have been formed.
    This is how we have done things and it has worked. I see a lot of parents who will not discipline their children and it places stress on the parents, the priest and the congregation.
    Having said all that, I also believe in giving the child the best chance at achieving good behaviour. The basics of a sufficient breakfast, a non stressful morning before Mass and rewards to look forward to at the end, whether that is going out somewhere they want, buying a treat at the shop, watching a movie etc.

    1. Reply

      Kelly,

      I wonder if misbehaving toddlers are actually toddlers who are just unable to cope. None of my children ever misbehaved at Mass but they did run out of patience when they were very small. They didn't have the ability to sit still for the necessary time, or even be quiet sometimes. Of course as they grew they coped with more and more, until they were able to stay the whole hour in the pew. Good habits formed as they became developmentally more mature.

      Maybe I didn't give enough details about what I used to do when my children needed taking out of Mass. I am always leaving out half the story! Yes, we visited the garden and smelt the daisies. We also visited all the statues at the back of the church. We blew kisses to Jesus, and discussed all the stations of the cross, the candles, what the priest was doing…. A little of this and a little of that to match my child's attention span.

      Kelly, I can see you feel strongly about discipling your children while at Mass, and it sounds like you have have been very successful. I admit my approach was a bit different from yours but the end result is probably the same. We both have children who love and appreciate the Mass, and who know how to be quiet and reverent while in the church. I guess that's what's most important.

      Thank you so much for your comment. It is always good to discuss such issues with you!

    • Mary
    • December 17, 2013
    Reply

    What did you do to make your children behave? Spank them? Yell at them? No child will be good just by letting them do what they are told! I have tried everything, hitting, screaming, punishing and nothing works on my girls. They are so annoying!
    -Mary

    1. Reply

      Mary,

      Parenting is difficult sometimes, isn't it? Fighting with kids can be very stressful. I've had my own times when I've wondered what to do because nothing seemed to be working.

      So what did I do to make my kids behave? Here's a few thoughts…

      Hitting and screaming make life into a battle with us on one side and our children on the other. I try to stay on the same side as my children, where I can help them and enjoy them. Children are a real blessing and if we are fighting all the time it seems such a pity. We are missing out on what should be a very special relationship. Spanking and punishing threaten to ruin relationships between a parent and a child because they lead to resentment and fear.

      The other thing I have noticed about punishing children as a way of modifying their behaviour is that children will only conform when a parent is around. Motivation to do what is right has to come from within a child. It shouldn't matter whether a parent is there or not to oversee a child, she should still want to do what is right.

      And children can become resistant to punishments. Then we need to scream louder and spank harder…

      So what is the answer? It is true my children do what I feel is right without me threatening them in any way. They are good kids who are considerate and loving, helpful and polite. Understanding kids make mistakes and need forgiving, recognising we too make mistakes and being willing to apologise, always assuming kids have good intentions even if they fail sometimes, helping them without controlling them, accepting them always, treating them with the same respect we'd give to others outside the family, not putting them down or embarrassing them, not criticising but always being encouraging, loving them unconditionally… It sounds simple, I know.

      I do believe that when we feel loved unconditionally we want to be the best people we can be. This is true both for mothers and children. My children love me so much despite the fact I make lots of parenting mistakes. This makes me want to try harder. I want to be the best mother in the world. Their forgiveness humbles me. I am sure it works the same way when I show unconditionally love and forgiveness towards my children.

      Perhaps we need to look at situations we are fighting about. Are there too many unnecessary rules which kids find hard to live with? Do we need to let go and trust them more? Are kids really unreasonable or do we find it hard to let go of all our control over them? Has life become hard work? Do we need to spend more time having fun as a family? Do our kids need special one-on-one time? Do they have needs we haven't noticed? Are we listening?

      Mary, these are just a few ideas off the top of my head. I've written about these things in more detail in other posts. I don't know if you would find it helpful to look at them. Links can be found under 'parenting'. I know I don't have all the answers (I'm still learning) but it can sometimes be good to chat about these things and mull over ideas. Please feel welcome to comment again if you'd like to.

      I saw your photos of your daughters on your blog. They are beautiful! Thank you for stopping by. God bless you!

    2. Reply

      Wow Sue. This comment could be a book someday! Excellent.

    3. Reply

      Mary,

      I am sorry you felt like crying. I feel like crying too sometimes when I look back at my mothering mistakes. Parenting is such a tough thing to do. We only learn by experience and I have certainly made my own share of mistakes in the past. But we learn and children are very forgiving. They remember love more than mistakes. So of course it's not too late to try something new! I modify my mothering all the time as I learn more about myself and what life is about. No one is perfect and has all the answers. We just need to have goodwill and be open to change when we see a better way of doing things.

      The first thing I thought of was trust. I wonder if it will take your girls a bit of time to trust you are not going to yell or spank them. Once this stage has passed, I bet you will start to really enjoy each other and your time together. If we see our children as beautiful, talented, funny, helpful, etc instead of as annoying, a trouble, a problem, pests… our whole attitude towards them can change. Children respond so well to acceptance, kind words, encouragement, unconditional love…

      Mary, thank you for your kind words. Thanks for the links too! I hope we can stay in touch.

      God bless!

    4. Reply

      Michelle,

      You are very kind. Thank you for stopping by and writing those very encouraging words. I don't know if I could ever write a parenting book but it was lovely of you to suggest it. God bless!

    5. Reply

      Mary,

      We are all just mothers trying to do the best for our children. Making you see the truth? You just stumbled over a new idea while visiting my blog but I'm glad you found my words helpful. Thank you for following my blog. I hope we can be friends and encourage each other in our mothering journey.

      God bless you!

      • Mary
      • December 17, 2013
      Reply

      Sue,
      I read some of your posts and your ideas and to tell the truth you made me cry! I feel like I have been doing everything wrong. After hearing that there are other ways of doing things I looked it up on the internet and saw so many people saying the same thing, spanking will get you no where! I have spent my whole life doing what is wrong. Is it too late for me to change what I am doing? Have I already lost everything I had with my daughters?
      Michelle is right! You should write a book about mothering.
      Mary

      • Mary
      • December 18, 2013
      Reply

      Sue,
      You have made me see the truth. I am going to follow your advise and try to build a better relationship with my children. One built of trust and love. Thank you so much to guiding me to the truth. I never would have known about how wrong I was if I had never talked to you! Thank you.
      I am going to follow your blog so I can hear more of your advise.
      -Mary

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