Family

What do we do with a child who sleeps during the rosary and seems distracted at Mass?

Kids will be kids, says Katrina Fernandez

Hello, Katrina,

Hope you are well.

I am a regular reader of Aleteia and love reading your Q&A section. You have covered this issue before, but as a concerned mother, I would like to have your advice. It concerns my 9-year-old daughter and her spirituality.   

To brief you on my family, we are Catholic and I have 2 daughters, 17 and 9 years of age. We are both working parents living as expats in another country. We are blessed to have a church which we regularly go. My children attend catechism here in our parish. We say a family rosary every day. I make it a point to read the Bible with my kids before we sleep with a short prayer, say the Divine Mercy chaplet whenever we are at home, and instill and keep the spiritual atmosphere alive at home.  

My younger daughter is a very loving child. I am a bit concerned with her approach to spiritual life. When it comes to going to Mass, there will be questions like – how long will it take? Why so much time? She will not pay attention or pray during the service. She is always distracted. At home too while saying the rosary, she will get up to drink water, make excuses to leave, or fall asleep. I have tried to talk to her, explain to her, but it is only for that moment.  

She is going to receive Our Lord in the Eucharist next year and it concerns me as to how much that will offend Our Lord, to receive Him with no love. Can you suggest or advise about how to get her to understand or focus?

Thanks for your time and help.

God bless

M-

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Dear M-

It sounds like you are doing everything responsible Catholic parents are supposed to do to instill the faith in their children. It also sounds like your 9-year-old is behaving exactly how 9-year-olds behave. I think having some age appropriate expectations might help you be less concerned. Some kids are quiet and some are talkative but almost all of them lack impulse control, especially at 9. Understanding and focus typically come with age and experience. Your daughter has plenty of time to acquire those skills.   

I also wouldn’t assume that your daughter has “no love” for the Eucharist just because she thinks Mass is too long. Think of all those people who’ve ever looked at their watch during a particularly long-winded homily. I wouldn’t assume they love the Lord any less. People are human and kids have limited attention spans.

To help her, break down the Mass in concrete ways that will help her keep track of time. An example would be the first two readings and the Gospel typically happen within the first 30 minutes, followed by the homily, and then Communion. If she knows that there are only 15 minutes left in the Mass she’s less likely to be anxious.  

I think it’s wonderful that you have the family rosary but know that, especially for young children, the rosary is a long 30-minute prayer discipline that is challenging for a lot of folks, even saints.

More to read: Confessions of a Family Rosary Dropout

St. Therese said, “when alone (I am ashamed to admit it) the recitation of the rosary is more difficult for me than the wearing of an instrument of penance.”  Imagine how your 9-year-old daughter feels!

St. Therese also had this to say about falling asleep during prayer, “The fact that I often fall asleep during meditation, or while making my thanksgiving, should appall me. Well, I am not appalled; I bear in mind that little children are just as pleasing to their parents asleep as awake; that doctors put patients to sleep while they perform operations, and that after all, ‘the Lord knows our frame. He remembers that we are dust.'”

More to read: John Paul II and protective power of the family rosary

I would suggest you keep doing what you’re doing, but in moderation. If an entire rosary is too demanding, then let her get away with a single decade. If she gets fidgety in Mass, she gets fidgety. So long as she isn’t throwing temper tantrums and talking so loudly to disturb others, it sounds like she’s just being a typical kid. If you’re concerned about your daughter’s understanding of the Eucharist then reach out to her faith formation teachers and discuss your concerns with them. They will be able to let you know if they think she has a decent enough understanding of the Sacrament. They may also be able to suggest ways to reinforce the classroom instruction at home. If Adoration is available then take her for brief visits to Our Lord.

More to read: 5 reasons Mass didn’t bore the saints

Lastly, everyone has a spiritual type. Some people respond with contemplative prayer, some people need a more action-oriented prayer like walking the Stations or going for rosary walks. Your daughter’s way of praying and living out her faith is going to be unique to her. Have you ever asked her if there’s a certain prayer she would like to do and provided her with several options to choose from?  

It sounds like you’re doing a great job, mom. You’re on the right path. I wish you and your daughter the best and congratulations on her upcoming First Holy Communion.

More to read: How About Some Truly Great and Unique 1st Communion Gift Ideas? 

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Katrina Fernandez

Katrina Fernandez  has a PhD in being single, and a master’s in single parenting with a concentration in Catholic guilt. She’s been writing about these and other life-survival topics for more than a decade. Submit all questions to katrinafixesitforyou@gmail.com