How To Go To Mass With Kids
One of the most common questions I hear from fellow Catholic parents is, “How can I get my kid to behave during Mass?” As parents of three children ages 6, 3, and 19 months, we have had our share of crazy Mass behavior, including a Mass where the now six-year-old ran out of Mass so quickly after the closing prayer he knocked over a holy water font. Our Mass strategy has changed over the years as we have added children and gotten to know their various personalities.
Here’s what has worked for us throughout the years.
Have Appropriate Expectations and Expect Distractions
In the beginning, my biggest frustration was not having age-specific and child-specific expectations for my children. It is not age appropriate for a two-year-old to sit still for over an hour without talking, toys, or being held. This resulted in undue frustration on both of our parts. Additionally, my three children have varied greatly in when they were able to handle proper Mass postures. Each time before attending Mass, we go over Mass behavior expectations with each of the children (which is different for each child based on age and ability). This includes questions for the three-year-old like “Are you allowed to run in the pew?” “Can you leave the pew without Mom or Dad?” “What happens if you are too loud?”
For our 19-month-old, not allowing his feet to touch the ground is vital. We accomplish this by placing him in a toddler babywearing carrier on my back. If he gets fussy, I will take him to the back of the church and point out the statues and other holy items. He especially likes to look at St. Joseph and St. Gabriel the Archangel, his patron saints. When he is calm and ready, we will go back to the pew.
On the flip side, as parents with children, it is not reasonable to expect no distractions during Mass. Once I expected distractions, I was less frustrated when it happened and better able to meet the needs of my children. After all, taking care of their needs also pleases God.
By maintaining reasonable expectations before Mass begins, we set ourselves up for success.
Prepare for Mass at Home
Wearing special clothes (my 3-year-old adores her “puffy” Mass dress), helps children realize this time is special and different than every other hour in the week. Reading and discussing the reading ahead of time is helpful for both older children and parents. If I have already read the readings and have to step out for a few minutes, I feel like I have “missed” less of Mass and am more prepared to listen to the homily. We also discuss with each of the older children who they want to pray for at Mass that day.
Have A Mass Kit at Home
Make or purchase a Mass kit at home so children can play Mass at home. While there are several great options on Etsy and other sites, this site helped me make our first Mass kit for under $20. This is very budget friendly, especially if you are not wanting to make a large initial investment.
The Mass kit has become a favorite toy around our house and I have added and replaced pieces over the years. Both of my sons first started enjoying the Mass kit around 18-months and it has helped them know exactly what was happening at Mass. It also helped them learn the proper names for each piece.
Set Yourselves Up for Success
Listen to your children’s natural clock. For us, 8:30 am Sunday Mass typically results in the best behavior because our children are fresh, full from breakfast and not yet ready for a nap. The 4 pm vigil Mass on Saturday is typically a gamble on whether or not the 19-month-old will be well behaved. Eleven am is too close to both lunch and naptime. So we attend the 8:30 am Mass whenever possible.
Through much trial and error, we determined that bringing “stuff” for our children to do/play with resulted in sharing issues during Mass and were more trouble than they were worth. We also don’t do snacks outside of allowing babies to nurse as snacks can create messes and be allergy issues for other children. Instead, we sit in the front pew where our children can see Father instead of people’s heads. Our 3-year-old is allowed to pick ONE book from the limited library our parish provides so she has something to look at the pictures if she desires. This enables her to “have something to do” in her words but it is not enough for the other children to fight over.
Point to Jesus during the Consecration
We started this practice at a very early age. Each time, as Father holds up the Body and Blood of Jesus during the consecration, we stop whatever we are doing or looking at and point at the Body and the Blood. I say, “This is the important part. That is Jesus!” From a fairly young age, the children have seemed to understand that Jesus is present in the Eucharist.
Make a Communion Prayer
Immediately after receiving communion we return to the pew and pray the “Anima Christi” prayer as a family. This connects our children, who are not old enough to receive communion, to the Holy Eucharist and forms a “spiritual communion” between our children and Jesus. I also find it deepens my own connection to Jesus in communion.
You can choose any prayer you like, but we find that the Anima Christi prayer is great because it is short, easy to memorize (my 6-year-old generally repeats it with me), and Eucharist-centered. The words are provided below.
Soul of Christ, sanctify me.
Body of Christ, save me.
Blood of Christ, inebriate me.
Water from the side of Christ, wash me.
Passion of Christ, strengthen me.
O good Jesus, hear me.
Within your wounds conceal me.
Do not permit me to be parted from you.
From the evil foe protect me.
At the hour of my death call me.
And bid me come to you,
to praise you with all your saints
forever and ever.
Get to Know Father
Our children find it a great joy to talk to Father after Mass. They look forward to asking him questions and telling him exciting things that happened to them. For instance, our six-year-old had to show Father his new Mass shoes. We often prep and practice their questions at home so they are ready when they do get to talk to Father. This positive weekly experience allows them to have good associations with Mass and church, even when it is hard to sit still. Consider inviting Father over for dinner so the children can get to know him even better.
Pray Without Children
I once had a friend comment, “I wish they told you that when you have children, it will be the last time you are able to pray at Mass.” We must acknowledge, it’s hard to take children to Mass. It can be very wearing to go to Mass week after week, month after month, year after year and never hear a complete homily. Recently, our family has made it a point that both Mom and Dad get to go to daily Mass once a week without children in the pew to wrangle. This practice requires intentional decisions to adjust work schedules, but it has enabled us to be more patient and loving during Mass as we know we will get our uninterrupted prayer time later in the week. If schedules do not allow daily Mass, a weekly Holy Hour of adoration, or occasionally splitting Masses without children who are not yet of the age of reason or utilizing the nursery if your parish has one can also help Mom and Dad’s patience when children are in Mass.
This article on the website For Your Marriage helped us form our Mass strategy over the years.