Thursday, July 7, 2016

5 Tips to Help Your ADHD Child During Mass

I have two rambunctious boys that keep me on my toes as a mom. In addition to the normal craziness that little boys bring into every day, my youngest son has several sensory issues, ADHD and some developmental delays. I love both of my children more than anything else on this earth but there are some situations that really stress me out when I am dealing with the combination of what society deems appropriate and keeping my children happy and involved in this crazy thing we call life.

We are a Catholic family and our faith is the center of our lives. With that being said, there are tasks that we do daily and weekly to be fully immersed in our faith. Going to church weekly and on special occasions is one of those tasks. I personally love going to Mass. I love the simplistic beauty of the chapel, the calming grace of the music, the emotional connection to God that you feel throughout Mass. However, I am sure that you are already realizing that a young child with sensory issues and ADHD can feel uncomfortable very easily in this same setting. Here are the things that we do to help my son feel comfortable and an active member of our parish. These suggestions will help your child but they are not "one size fits all". You will have to adapt them to your own child based on their own special needs. I am going to be real honest. If your child is similar to mine, expecting them to be perfect angels during Mass is probably not going to happen anytime soon but these tips will help them control their outbursts and have a better understanding of what the Mass is and help them make a better connection to God through the Mass.

1. Dress for the Occasion

For my son this means making sure he is "comfortable". I do like to dress in my Sunday Best but making sure your child is comfortable should be your main concern. Some examples of things that I have to consider in making wardrobe choices are based on the touch of the fabric or tags, the sounds his shoes make when he walks, or knocks them against the pew and even if the clothing has a distracting pattern. In addition to these possible sensory malfunctions, I have to consider what I wear too because my son normally sits next to me or in my lap. I can normally wear a sundress as long as the material is soft because he likes to rub the material between his fingers. It is a calming feeling for him, which makes sitting still a little easier too.

We have found that simple works best for our family. A basic tagless polo shirt (not too bright colored) or cotton button up with cotton khaki or black cotton pants or dress shorts and a pair of solid colored socks that cover the ankle and black dress shoes (not too squeaky, so we can't wear these on days it rains or snows) or velcro tennis shoes. He will even wear ties at times. My youngest also enjoys if he is wearing something similar to his older brother, not identical but similar, so I try my best to incorporate the similar wardrobe too. As I mentioned before, this is something that can be adapted to your child's special needs.

2. Find the Perfect Spot to Sit

Once you get to the church, this is extremely important. Logistically planning where to put your child makes a world of difference on your experience and your child's experience during Mass. This is going to sound CRAZY but we sit in the front pew or the closest pew we can get if there are pews reserved for people with difficult mobility. Hear me out.. I am sure that you are imaging me in the front pew wrestling with my child to sit quietly and whispering in his ear several times a minute. Well I would be lying if I said that doesn't still happen but sitting up front actually has helped eliminate some of the extra movements he makes and sounds because he gets pulled into the action on the altar.  We use redirection often when helping get our son back on track and it is very effective during Mass. My oldest altar serves so pointing out big brother always puts a smile on his face.

Things to consider when making your big decision about where do I sit? 

Attention span: Bad attention spans actually will be able to have better attention where they can see what is happening. It is also important to know if your child is old enough to understand what is going on or should you prepare some acceptable activities for your children to do during Mass.

Age: My son is almost 6 so we have decided to make the leap from the quiet room into the church pews. If your child is too young due to age or mentality then siting in the quiet room or in the back is nothing to be ashamed about. When we are having "rough" days we still go into the quiet room.

Logistics: My youngest son ALWAYS has to use the bathroom at some point during Mass. Logistically it is easier to get him to the potty without incident if we sit at the end of the pew closest to the walkway to the bathroom.

3. Routine Schedule

If your child has any type of therapy or supplemental learning programs they attend, you already know the importance of keeping them on a routine. In regards to ADHD, late morning is normally the best time to take my son to Mass. It gives him time to wake up and play to expel some of that extra energy he has prior to being calm and quiet for a bit. We have attended some evening Masses as well but he normally falls asleep. I want him to feel apart of the experience and I feel like he misses out taking a nap. It is also not so fun to put a child to bed several hours after they had a power nap. Every child is different though try out different times and see which works best for you.

4. Keeping Your Child in the "KNOW"

I am love with Catholic Mass and the way it brings the Eucharist to us. There are times to sit, stand, kneel. Time to sing, pray and be quiet. Making sure my son is aware about when it is time to do what has helped him exponentially with behaving. This actually starts well before you ever arrive at the Church. Sunday morning when I wake up the boys we go through our normal morning routine and get ready for breakfast. While they are sitting and eating, I give them their "game plan" for the day.

"Boys after breakfast, we need to all get ready for church. Let's brush our teeth, get dressed and then mommy will fix your hair before we leave"

I don't give too many instruction at once because neither boys can remember more than 3-4 steps. Once we have all gotten ready, we load up in the car and say,

"You guys look so handsome in your church outfits. Remember when we are at church that there are times we can make noise and times we have to be quiet. I know it's hard so I will remind you what to do, ok?"

I like to compliment my boys because I want them to know its important to look presentable at Mass and then give them a reminder of what is expected of their behavior at Church. My oldest is 9 and doesn't need to be reminded but it makes my youngest feel singled out if I give direction only to him. He normally responds back to me with a little attitude that "he knows and he's not a baby". So this system just works for us.

As we walk into church and bless ourselves (holy water fonts are a favorite because of the sensory stuff), I will remind the boys that it is quiet prayer time when we sit but when the priest walks in we get to sing! My little guy LOVES to sing. I will normally open the missalette to today's Mass and find the songs to show him. I allow him to hold our donation to give during the offering and allow him to pass the basket. As long as I make the experience interactive to the best of my ability, he seems to enjoy the experience more.

As you can see this step will keep you busy but making sure your child is aware of what is happening and making them feel included is a great way to encourage their participation. Now I do not want to give you the false impression that my son will do exactly what he is suppose to do when he is suppose to do it. That is not the case, he will stand when we kneel because he wants to see the priest better. He will sing the chorus' solo parts with them. He will even copy the priests blessings when we are suppose to be quiet and reverent. He has cried when we go get communion because "it's not fair he's not old enough". All these and many other outcries have come from my son during Mass but what matters is that he has a love for the Mass and a growing connection to God.

5. The Back Up Plan

There will be days that your child will be in a bad mood or just can't deal with things. Trust me, we have our fair share and that is where the back up plan for Mass comes into play. I am sure that you noticed throughout this post that I referenced having several options for clothing, sitting, participation levels and redirection. All of these things are directly correlated to your child and their unique calming techniques. Make sure to give yourself options for everything if your child is having a rough day. Just make sure that option isn't skipping Mass because it can set a precedence that is hard to break. Here are some ideas to keep in mind that may calm your child if you have to sit in the back or quiet room.

Calming sensory bottles
Church related coloring pages
Children's Bible or story book
Bringing a Snack

I highly suggest checking out Holy Heroes and Catholic Child to find some great toys, story books, rosaries and so much more. My boys personally love the Holy Heroes Glory Stories and Coloring Books.

These 5 tips are basic guidelines to help you and your child enjoy your time at Mass together but as I have stated several times before, each child is unique and their needs are too. I do not medicate my son so we have to find coping activities to help him frequently. I know these guidelines will help you and I hope they benefit your child as they have mine. I completely understand how difficult it is to bring an active child into an environment that is not within their comfort zone. I know the struggle well and I know that God does too.

I am sharing this at Let's Get Real, Theology is a Verb and Reconciled to you.

God Bless.


  1. These are great tips -- ADHD or not! Thanks for taking the time to put together a post on what works for you.

    1. Thank you! I think that these tips could help lots of children and parents. I know I watched my brother struggle with it and now seeing there are ways that sooth my little guy, I figured it was worth sharing :)

  2. I am also Catholic and have a toddler so I really appreciate these tips. We definitely have some rough days during mass but are trying to work on keeping to a routine and being consistent with it. Thanks for sharing! #LetsGetReal

    1. Thank you! I actually had another mom ask me about what I do for my youngest because she was aware that he had some delays but still considering all that, does pretty well during Mass, so I figured I would share what works for us! I hope they help you and your toddler. It was so nice to hear from you! God Bless!