Our Father Who Art in Stop Hitting Your Sister: praying with regular kids

by | Nov 10, 2015 | Parenting, Parenting Advice, You Ask, Kendra Answers | 16 comments

If the figurine genre has taught us anything, it’s that children love to kneel reverently and piously recite their prayers.

But if your children happen to not be figurines, maybe they sometimes complain about saying their prayers. Maybe sometimes prayer time turns into shove time or giggle time or nose-pick time. Sometimes you end up interrupting prayers to remind and lament and shout and put people in timeouts and you wonder if it’s even worth it.

Hey . . . sounds like mailbag time! TWO for the price of one.

The Question:

Hi Kendra,
I love your blog and read every entry. Thanks for all the great advice.
I’m writing because I have two children who often goof around during
prayer. They might do elaborate hand gestures while making the sign of
the cross, giggle and chortle, use funny voices and faces etc. this is
mostly during bedtime prayer, and they can be quite hyper at that time
of the evening. My five year old doesn’t have this problem. The kids in
question are ages 7 (girl) and 8 (a boy soon to be 9). I don’t want to
over react, as they are children, but I do want to address this. I would
appreciate your advice.
Thank you,

The Answer:

Hey Sam,

We struggle with the same sorts of things here. It can be hard because you want prayer time to be this time of beauty and joy and serenity . . . not yelling and punishments. But, in my experience, kids don’t naturally behave during prayer anymore than they naturally behave for anything else. They have to be taught.

We want our kids to enjoy prayer (or at least not dislike it), but also be reverent.We maintain age-appropriate expectations for behavior during prayers, just like anything else.

We try to say a family rosary most nights, and they sometimes lose focus. Preschoolers are allowed to wander a bit, but we want out older kids to learn to participate. So, we give them a warning (or two) to knock off the silliness and say the prayers properly. Then, if they don’t, they get to stand, or kneel, or some other less comfortable position. Also, if we’re going to have dessert that night, we have it after the rosary, and anyone who doesn’t behave, doesn’t get any. If it were still a problem, I’d tie other punishments to it. Like, I’d move prayer up to right after dinner, and if you misbehave, you go straight to bed. Or no screens that evening or the next day.

Basically, I’d say, don’t be afraid to calmly but firmly motivate your kids to do what you say. Once they get into the habit of being respectful during prayers, it’s going to be much more enjoyable for everyone. And I think that makes it more likely that they’d keep it up long-term.
Good luck!


AND . . .

The Question:


I’ve been reading your blog for a while now and wonder if you
might have some advice. I was confirmed this past Easter.  I promised
that once that was all done, I would get my son who is almost 3 1/2
going to mass, etc.  It is very important that I raise him Catholic.
His father is not Catholic, but supportive (and I am praying for him).
Anyway, here’s the question . . . well two maybe.  First, we have been
praying at night before my son goes to bed. The first few times he was
into it, but now says he doesn’t want to do it.  I can normally get him
to participate, but I don’t want to force him and punish him if he
doesn’t say them.  Do you have any suggestions?
Secondly, I struggle with him at Mass. The people
around me last night were so kind and said they’d been there too . . . but I
get so frustrated every time, which I try not to show him. For a few
minutes, I considered just not taking him until he’s older, but I know
that’s not the answer.  We sit right up front as well . . . and the priest
knows his name 🙂  I keep praying, but as a mother, do you have any
suggestions? I feel like I am the only one going through this . . . all the
other kids seem to be sitting so nicely . . . and starting at my kid who
wants to climb all over the place.  -Julie

The Answer:

Thanks, Julie, and welcome to the Church!

It’s wonderful that you are sharing your faith with your son. It’s hard, especially on your own, but I agree with you that it’s important. My mom brought my sister and I to Mass while my dad stayed home and worked in the garage my whole childhood. We gave her a ton if grief over it, but as an adult I’m so grateful and impressed that she did. And my dad eventually did convert when I was in college and now I can hardly remember when Mass wasn’t something we shared as a whole family. Hopefully, your road won’t be quite as long, but keep at it either way!

And as for your son, I have been there. My oldest was really, really hard for me to deal with in Mass. Nightly prayers were an issue too. I think we all, as moms and Catholics, think that somehow our children should desire things like Mass and prayers. We want them to pray out of love for God and it feels wrong to “force” them to do it.

The problem is, that we are all fallen creatures, even our beautiful children, and we don’t naturally desire what’s good for us.

Behaving properly for Mass and prayers isn’t a religion issue, it’s just a general behavior and obedience issue. He needs to say his prayers at night because you said so, not because he wants to. His prayer life and his love for God can only develop if he does it first out of obedience. Then he will grow to doing it out of love.

The same goes for Mass. He needs to sit still in Mass not because he recognizes the majesty of the Mass or because he loves Jesus. He needs to sit still in Mass because you told him too, just like he’d have to behave in a doctor’s waiting room, or sit still on a plane.

If he can follow your directions at home in other things that he doesn’t particularly feel like doing, trying a food he doesn’t like, or cleaning up his toys, or going to bed when he’s told, then all you need to do is transfer that behavior to prayer time too. Say, “We’re going to say our prayers to Jesus now. We’re going to kneel here and look at Jesus on the cross and say one Our Father, then you can pick a saint and we’ll ask that saint to pray for us. If you do a good job we’ll have a story before bed, if not, you’ll go straight to bed with no story.” Then just follow through. That’s how WE do nightly prayers, but obviously you should substitute whatever you prefer for prayer time.

If you have bigger behavior issues and he doesn’t listen to you on those other issues, then I don’t think prayers is the place to focus your efforts first. I have a post called Always Mean What You Say. If you’re starting from scratch with a 3.5-year-old, I’d start there. Just being calm but firm, having reasonable expectations, giving clear explanations of what is expected and what the reasonable consequence will be, then always, always, always following through.

I’d focus my efforts first on just teaching him that I mean what I say on things like toys and hitting and bedtime and food, and just set a good example of saying bedtime prayers out loud, myself, the way I’d like him to eventually do it. Then after a couple of weeks of requiring good behavior in other areas, he’d be ready for you to require him to say prayers. The key is just to NOT say that he has to do it, until you’re willing to mean it and set consequences and follow through.

Same with Mass. Can he behave in other places where he has to sit still? Great, then just set consequences (and rewards! Donuts are a big motivator!) and mean it. Tell him what you expect: quiet voice, stay in the pew, no banging is a good place to start. Give him a consequence, no screens the rest of the day or week or something, and a reward, like a dounut, to motivate him. Then be really, really, really consistent. If he goes out of the pew, he REALLY doesn’t get the dounut or the screens. And every time he asks, you remind him, “It would be fun to watch a show, but I’m sorry, you went out of the pew, so we can’t. I’m sure you’ll be able to remember next week!”

Keep praying, by all means, it worked for St. Monica. But I think in this situation, your prayer will be most effective when combined with solid parenting techniques.

Good luck!

Related reading . . .

From the Trenches: Mass Survival Strategies That Work for Us

So, Your Toddler is Terrible in Mass . . .

Peace Be With You, Dinosaur: Age Appropriate Goals for Mass Behavior

Disclaimer: I am not a theologian, nor am I an official spokesperson for the Catholic Church. (You’re thinking of this guy.)
If you read anything on this blog that is contrary to Church teaching,
please consider it my error (and let me know!). I’m not a doctor or an
expert on anything in particular. I’m just one person with a lot of
experience parenting little kids and a desire to share my joy in
marriage, mothering, and my faith.

If you’ve got a question,
please send it along to helpdesk@catholicallyear.com. Please let me
know if you prefer that I change your name if I use your question on the

P.S. Happy Marine Corps Birthday to the husband, and all the other Marines* out there! In honor of today, through Veteran’s Day tomorrow, the new military branch 8×10 St. Michael Prayer printables are available, and two-sided printable holy cards are available too!

Marine Corps, Army, Navy, Air Force, Canadian Mounties, and Police are available.

*once a Marine, always a Marine

Oh, and here is Bobby, reciting the First Marine Corps Birthday Message for our homeschool Great Speeches Pageant last year.  OORAH!


  1. Carrie Archual

    I have a 3 yr 3 mo. old girl…..what should I expect out of her in the way of squirming and not audibly praying and swinging the rosary and other shenanigans when we pray our family 'rosary' (maaaaaaybe we make it through a decade) each night? I just have no idea what I should expect/require of her at the end of the day, so find myself frustrated over and over again. Thanks!

    • Kendra

      This is a bit tricky. Some of my three year olds could handle siting through a rosary,,some definitely could not. And it's always harder with the oldest anyway, because they don't have any siblings to model appropriate behavior for them.

      I think I probably would have required my oldest to sit still and participate. I think you CAN get most three year olds to do it. But these days, I'm not convinced that it's worth it. I wait until school age to expect participation in prayers.

      We mostly expect our preschoolers to be "not disruptive" during our family rosary. So, they can play quietly or even run laps around the room, as long as it's generally quiet running. I expect them to be in the room and be respectful. If they can't do that, we pause the rosary and put the offending preschooler to bed.

      By five, I expect sitting in one spot and saying the prayers audibly.

  2. Curt Dose

    Go Bobby!


    On the occasion marking the birthday of the US Marine Corps, 1978, onboard Camp LeJeune, and in the presence of several thousand Marines and their ladies, General Louis H. Wilson, CMC, arose to deliver his long awaited address to the troops. He approached the rostrum, nodded to the CG's (Base, FSSG and Division) and proceeded to explain to the captive masses that he would be short on words that night – then turned to his bride, took a glass and, amid absolutely DEAD SILENCE, offered this toast – and promptly SAT DOWN.




    Semper Fi! Grandad

  3. Colleen

    Our daughter started giving us a hard time about bedtime prayers around the same time she was able to say them along — which is to say she sat fairly quietly and compliantly when we were saying her prayers for her, but once we expected her to participate she started complaining. What worked for us is exactly what you suggest: our little creature of habit expects some warmed milk and a book or two at bedtime. If she doesn't cooperate at "prayerstime" we take away the book(s), and if she continues to act up we tell her she's going to lose her milk too. We have never had to actually keep the milk from her, because she knows the consequence is real.

    (I love when Kendra's advice is something I've already implemented. It makes me feel like a Parenting Guru.)

  4. Brianne

    We used to have such a hard time with taking my son (now 3.5) to mass. He would climb everywhere, and try to escape the pew. Because it was so stressful we really weren't going regularly, so he really didn't know what to expect. It was, to some extent, a new experience every time. At the beginning of the summer we decided to make a commitment to go to mass regularly and help him get used to mass. My son loves routines, so I got a picture book that shows all the parts of mass in a very simplified way (big pictures, not a lot of text.) We went through the book several times in the days before Sunday and talked about all the things that we do at mass. Then, at mass, if he gets squirmy or asks if we're done, I pull out our book and show him where we are, and what comes next. This helped him so much! Now he knows what we do when we get to mass (get holy water), when we sing, when he gets to go up for a blessing, etc. It's sometimes still a challenge, and he always needs reminders, but it's so much easier. He loves it when he knows the prayers to say, like the Our Father, and he love the sign of peace. As a side note, my son is autistic, so he has extra challenges, and I really wondered if he'd be able to handle mass at all. I'm really glad that we made the effort and figured out a way that would help him relate to mass.

    • Audrey

      Brianne, that's a great idea! What picture book do you use?

    • Brianne

      The book that we have is, very creatively, titled: The Mass. I can't find a link on Amazon; I just picked it up at our local Catholic bookstore. I chose it because it had big pictures, that are drawn, but not super cartoony. I hope that you find one that works for you!

  5. Nanacamille

    As Kendra said I took her and younger sister to Mass alone every Sunday usually sitting between then to keep "the got you last" as under control as possible. They each had 2 quarters one for God, the collection and one for a donut after Mass. If they weren't good during Mass the donut quarter went in the poor box instead of for a donut. Litter sister even proclaimed during Mass one Sunday in a loud voice, "God says if you're not good in church you don't get a donut!" Brought the house down.
    Try to keep a non-Catholic spouse as involved as possible in Catholic practices like Mass on Christmas, Easter, etc. As children get older in Catholic school or CCD activities and they will soon see that the best people they know are Catholic so maybe they want to know more about our faith and maybe join. If you can do Catholic Marriage Encounter or Curcillo together it could work miracles as it did for our family.

  6. Pamela Averrett

    Great Post!! I think this is a challenge for every mom with small children! I would never think this foolishness happens at Kendra's house though….

  7. Michelle B

    Regarding bedtime prayers, I'd also look at: are my kids always squirmy before bed? Is THAT a problem I want to address? Each child is different of course, but my daughter goes nuts in the evenings if we allow her any sugar or screen time. She just can't seem to handle it then. It throws bedtime off by an hour, or bedtime becomes tear-fest. She also can't transition from playing straight to bedtime well, so we have to prep her.

    I said I'd never be one of those families with long, drawn out bedtime routines, but I find that only allowing quiet activity for a full hour before bed really helps us all have an easier time getting my child to sleep. During that hour we only do activities like bathing, pjs, book reading, a snack of plain yogurt + a drink of milk, bedtime prayers, lullabies, etc.

  8. Amanda

    Yeah, poor Mary gets a lot of "Hail Mary, I don't hear praying!!"

  9. Kristin Sanders

    You always have such great advice, thank you!! And I very often think of the story of your mom bringing you to Mass while your dad stayed home and it always brings me so much hope that our kids can turn out to love their faith even in not ideal parental (or otherwise) situations, and the important job I have as a faithful mother. Seriously – Thank you! 🙂

  10. Elizabeth

    I really appreciate this post! I think it makes so much sense that we have to train our kids to behave during prayer time just like we train or v inch good behavior at other key moments. That's such a gem! With that said, it's nice that family prayer can look different for different families or the same family in different stages. I'm not particularly able to focus well late in the day, so while we do night prayers, my kids do a decade of the Rosary earlier when everyone less tired and then it's snack time. Just tossing this idea out there: I've used the Holy Heroes coloring books and other Catholic Bible story coloring books as an option for the prek/ kindergarten-aged kids during our rosary time. They can sit with mama, color, hold a rosary or sit quietly with the blocks or felt board but they have to be quiet or pray along with us.

  11. Elizabeth

    I really appreciate this post! I think it makes so much sense that we have to train our kids to behave during prayer time just like we train or v inch good behavior at other key moments. That's such a gem! With that said, it's nice that family prayer can look different for different families or the same family in different stages. I'm not particularly able to focus well late in the day, so while we do night prayers, my kids do a decade of the Rosary earlier when everyone less tired and then it's snack time. Just tossing this idea out there: I've used the Holy Heroes coloring books and other Catholic Bible story coloring books as an option for the prek/ kindergarten-aged kids during our rosary time. They can sit with mama, color, hold a rosary or sit quietly with the blocks or felt board but they have to be quiet or pray along with us.

  12. LeAnna

    This is making me think that maybe we should move bedtime prayers to the beginning of our routine, instead of the end, since they tend to get progressively goofy until being tucked in. Crazy toddlers! I have found that challenging them to lead the prayers and pointing out figures in the Holy Family as we pray has helped focus their attention.

    As for Mass, what's worked with us has been coloring — they have a few Catholic coloring books plus some blank ones for scribbling in. It really helps my toddlers settle, and now we're hitting a rhythm where the books can disappear right after the homily. Being really clear about the "Porter Family Rules for Mass" has really helped too. They have to recite them en route to Mass and infringements result in a lack of Sunday treats. "No yelling, no running, no hitting, no arguing with Mama, no complaining and no steam train noises!"

  13. mel

    haha! yes, the nightly rosary,,,our daily occasion of sin, it feels like. We have taken to doing ours after dinner…the little kids get ready for bed *first*…then anyone who doesn't behave is dismissed right to bed. Mass…I have an autistic son,,,he is 11, and he has three under him, so we also had the issue of his terrible example for them to follow. It just felt crucial to get him to at least behave in the most basic way (quiet, somewhat still). Our best tool for this has been….daily mass! i know, crazy, but it does help. We can't really go daily. Our parish doesn't even have it daily. But we try to go once or twice during the week. Before that, in preparation for daily mass, we started making visits to the church when no one was there. We practiced entering quietly, leaving quietly, whispering (and only when something is *important*…like "I'm going to vomit" or "I am bleeding"), walking up for communion nicely, kneeling and saying a prayer….lots of positive reinforcement and praise. Maybe overkill for some, my oldest didn't need all of this, but it has helped us tremendously.


  1. The Family Rosary: Why is it SO Hard? - Catholic All Year - […] Our Father Who Art in Stop Hitting Your Sister: praying with regular kids […]
  2. Expect Great Things (and you just might get them) - Catholic All Year - […] Our Father Who Art in Stop Hitting Your Sister: praying with regular kids […]

Submit a Comment

Hi! I’m Kendra.

For twenty years now, I’ve been using food, prayer, and conversation based around the liturgical calendar to share the lives of the saints and the beautiful truths and traditions of our Catholic faith. My own ten children, our friends and neighbors, and people just like you have been on this journey with me.

If you’d like to learn more about what Catholics believe and why, and to be inspired by saints from every era all over the world, you’ve come to the right place. If you’re feeling overwhelmed with the prospect of how to teach your kids about the faith in a way that’s true, engaging, and lasts a lifetime, we can help!

➡️ Get my liturgical living checklist for free when you join my weekly newsletter. Sign up here.

This blog contains affiliate links and sponsored posts, for which I receive a commission. We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.