Why do some children behave inappropriately at Mass?

Dear Ms. Awareness,

I was wondering if you could help me? I attend mass regularly and usually sit in the same area every week. I am often seated behind a family with children. Two of the three children are very well mannered and follow along with the prayers of the mass well. The third child, who seems older than the other two, is always moving some part of his body and is very distracted. I do not think he says any of the prayers or sings any of the songs. Sometimes he utters inappropriate noises. Could you please help me understand why he behaves this way?

A Concerned Parishioner

Ms. Awareness Answers:

Dear Concerned Parishioner,

Well, the dynamics of every family is very different and, at times, very complex. Without knowing this family personally, I would venture to say that perhaps the oldest child has some sort of disability or special need of which you are unaware. If this is the case, the fact that he is able to come to church and stay with his family for the entire mass is a triumph for that family that should be acknowledged and celebrated! It shows that his family has taken much time to teach him about the mass and how to “behave” in church. The child may still exhibit some behaviors that are distracting, however, chances are he is doing his best to positively process everything happening around him during the mass. It is good to remember that each person processes sensory input in a different way. Those with special needs or certain disabilities may find loud music, bells ringing, incense burning, etc., very irritating, and actually spend a great deal of time and energy trying to process such sensory input in a quiet and acceptable manner.

Many times it is not understood that those with special needs receive an unbelievable amount of instruction in academics as well as practicing acceptable behaviors. In addition, time is also spent in desensitization programs that attempt to help them process sensory information with less difficulty.

For some children and adults, it just takes longer to learn new concepts so the lessons are repeated time and again, in different ways, until the person is able to understand the material or idea presented. Parents of those with disabilities or special needs of any sort are to be commended for the amount of dedication and compassion that they give their family member, not to mention the hours they spend carefully determining how to teach new concepts in a way that their family member is able to understand and remember.

Perhaps the next time you see this family you could take the opportunity to offer them a kind gesture? You could introduce yourself and mention that you always see them in church. I am guessing the family would love to get to know other church members since caring for a family member with a disability or special need is often an isolating experience for the entire family. Sometimes well meaning people, like yourself, shy away from any sort of interaction with the family in fear of saying or doing the wrong thing. Rest assured that a smile, a wink, a kind nod, a pat on the back, or a friendly “Hello” will be welcomed by most families. Of course, there is always a chance that the family may not return your greeting in as enthusiastic manner as you would hope. Remember, that is OK! It could just be that it was a very long hour for the family, and although they appreciate your kindness, they are ready to leave the church. Rest assured the family will fondly remember your caring gesture and encouragement.

Ms. Awareness would like you to remember that a kindness to any person is never wasted or forgotten. Kindness is, in fact, a fruit of the Holy Spirit, a very desirable gift to share with others. Think of the last time someone was kind to you. For that split second you were able to experience the glory of heaven on earth, the kindness of our God blessing you with a beautiful gift for your soul through the action of another.

As scripture says in Ephesians 4:32 “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ, God forgave you.”

I hope this helps you, and let me know if you have any other questions!

Ms. Awareness