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What to say when your young child doesn’t want to go to church

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Theresa Civantos Barber - published on 05/12/23

“I hate going to church! It’s boring!” Sound familiar? My young kids say things like this now and then. Here's how I respond to them.

Does this sound familiar?

“I hate going to church! It’s boring!” 

My young kids say things like this now and then.  

My oldest just turned 9, so these ideas are intended for children younger than that. I think my response to those kinds of comments would be different if I were speaking to an older child or teenager.

But when my kids say stuff like that, as my six-year-old did just last Sunday, here’s how I have responded.

1Church is nonnegotiable

Some parents let the child choose whether or not to go to Mass, but to me, that makes as much sense as letting a young child choose whether or not they want to wear a seatbelt, brush their teeth, or eat their vegetables.

We go to church on Sunday. It’s just what we do in our family, and we are intentional about building this weekly habit into a nonnegotiable part of our family culture.

But that doesn’t mean we have to be stern or harsh with our kids about it. Quite the opposite! Here’s what I do.

2Acknowledge and describe how they are feeling

A really important part of helping a child feel understood and seen is affirming what they are feeling. So I usually say something like this:

“I hear you. You don’t want to go to church. Church feels boring to you right now. It’s normal to feel that way when you’re a little kid. I used to think church was boring when I was your age too.” 

I want to make sure my child knows that I understand and care about how they are feeling. But of course, I don’t stop there.

3Explain why we go to church

Then I explain, “I thought church was boring when I was your age, but now, going to Mass is my favorite thing in the world. So I know you are going to love it as you get older too.”

When this conversation came up with my six-year-old last week, I told her, “God gave us all the days and hours and minutes of our lives. Thousands of hours to have fun and play and enjoy life. He just asks us to give him one hour a week to go to Mass on Sunday. Don’t you think we should do that?”

She thought about it for a minute and then said, “Yeah, I guess so.” 

A few hours later that day, I was amazed to see her kneeling by a statue of Mary in our garden. “I’m playing that I’m going to church, Mom!” she said. What a complete transformation from that morning!

4Share our witness

The Catechism teaches us that parents are called to be the first evangelists for their children:

Through the grace of the sacrament of marriage, parents receive the responsibility and privilege of evangelizing their children. Parents should initiate their children at an early age into the mysteries of the faith of which they are the “first heralds” for their children. (2225)

We can begin by sharing our love for Christ with our children. 

When my kids don’t want to go to church, I tell them, “I really love going to church. I love going to see God, who made us, and being there with all the saints and angels, and worshiping God with our friends.” 

Another way I unite home and church is that I set up a little prayer table in our homeschool room, and we often light candles and read from the Bible at this little oratory.

I want them to understand that we don’t just go to Mass because we have to, but because we want to.

5Educate at other times

While we are running out the door to Mass is not the best time to teach my kids why we value Mass. So I try really hard to educate them about it at other times of day.

I have to recommend this book, The Holy Mass: On Earth as It Is in Heaven. Whenever we start reading it, my kids become fascinated and have even asked to go to Mass after seeing what’s in it!

At one point, one of my kids was in a defiant stage and was refusing to kneel during Mass. So at a different time, later in the day, I pulled him onto my lap and asked, “Why do we kneel down at Mass? What does it mean about where we are and who is present there?” 

We discussed how kneeling is a sign of honor and reverence, and I said, “Do you think that the God who made heaven and earth, and you, and everyone you love, is someone you should kneel before?” 

He nodded his head slowly as I could see him start to understand why we kneel, instead of just going through the motions. He hasn’t ever refused to kneel at Mass since that conversation.

So that’s my system for responding when my little stinkers don’t want to go to Mass on Sunday. While reminding them that going to Mass is not up for debate, I acknowledge how they feel, explain why we go to church, share why I love going to Mass, and make a point to educate them later in the day about what’s going on at Mass and why it’s so important. 

I hope this helps. I’d love to hear what works for your family, too!

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