How Not to Bring Your Children to Mass


Bringing small children to mass is always an adventure. Jesus wasn’t kidding when he said “Suffer the little children to come to me.” Some days, even the bribe of donuts after church fails to secure a toddler’s cooperation. As a veteran of these faith trials, I offer the following suggestions to make the weekly obligation more child friendly and faith filled.

Don’t Pretend you aren’t going to mass. This means the kids shouldn’t be loaded up with such items as iPods, game boys, multiple cars, blocks and barbies.  Books can be a lifesaver, but even reading should be somewhat selective.  Any child that can read, should follow along in the misselette. Any child that can’t read, might be diverted by a picture bible or Catholic oriented story. I’ve seen some parents pacify squirmy four year olds with a quiet reading of the gospel.  Toddlers may need a toy or two to keep them busy. Such toys should be hard to lose, noiseless and ultimately, so toddler oriented that older children won’t be watching them play with envy in their hearts.

Feed them at home. Some parents walk into mass with a plan of throwing food at their children to maintain silence.  Armed with bags from the local fast food establishment containing anything from lollipops to pancakes, they figure as long as the kids are quiet, it doesn’t matter if they’re eating. Bringing food for health reasons is one thing, but Mass is a communal experience and every sane child that sees another child chowing down on food in the cry room is thinking the same thing.  “I want some.”

Pretending they’re not kids. Expecting children to sit quietly, eyes front, silent and well behaved for an entire sixty minutes is not recognizing children are children.  They will have moments of great reverence and in the next two seconds, have an elbow fight with their sibling over pew space.  One will sing loudly to emphasize the fact that the other is not singing.  Breaking the mass down into parts helps a child to cope with the length of the liturgy better.  Opening song to Gospel is one part, homily to Offertory hymn is a second part, Offertory to Our Father, Kiss of Peace to Go in Peace.

Having a reward system. Dividing the liturgy into digestible parts helps a child to settle into the liturgy and anticipate what comes. Earning a star for each section of the mass warrants a trip to the park, a donut, or at the very least, public praise.  The system should be clear such that if a child mentions to the priest they got “three stars for this mass,” minimal explanations are necessary.

Pretending they’re not your kids.  This technique doesn’t work well if you attend mass regularly at the parish.  Besides, siblings will out you if you pretend you know nothing about the toddler that is screaming on the floor, and that just gets awkward.

Being present to your children at mass. Just as sitting with the kids at dinner helps with manners, being present to your children will help them be present to others at mass. After all, as the parents, we’re the first example.  Dress nicely. Be on time. Sing the songs yourself, with feeling.  Read along with emerging reader.  Explain what is happening at the Liturgy of the Word and in the Eucharistic Prayer.  Encourage the older children to join the choir, altar serve or act as readers.  Invest them in being part of the mass just as assertively as one would basketball or academics, to instill in them the idea that this is sacred. This is who we are. This is what we believe.

Finally, when mass is ended, and we say “Thanks be to God,” mean it not because you’ve survived another week of going to mass with a two-year old, but because you welcome the week ahead, having received food for the journey.

Copyright 2009 Sherry Antonetti


About Author

Sherry Antonetti is a mother of ten children, published author of The Book of Helen and a freelance writer of humor and family life columns. You can read additional pieces from her blog,


  1. Sigh. Very timely article, Sherry. I cringe every time I see parents who bring a picnic lunch and a Nintendo DS for each of their kids to Mass. One Sunday I sat behind middle-school-aged kids who did their math homework the entire time! The parents did not even care and probably encouraged it to “save time.” ARRRGH!!

  2. Great article and great ideas. : )

    I just had a big long comment that I deleted. I always go on and on with this topic. I had 2 bottom lines that I’ll simplify: Nothing irks me more than parents who allow their children to eat, drink, play, be merry, or act out in church. My kids have gone to church regularly since birth, and that includes the triplets! 1 year….2 years old….3 years old……now 6 year old triplets, and we have NEVER had a problem with them at mass. They go, they are respectful of where we are and all we are celebrating, they participate, and they do and have always LOVED GOING to mass. My oldest (just turned 12) is the most reverent, dedicated altar server who CRAVES and SEEKS being on that altar to serve Christ and her church.

    Here’s my motto: Parents are going to get from their children, just what they expect of them. They need to expect a lot more, in the way of behavior, and they just be surprised that they get it! I have a 100 tips myself for bringing children to mass – but I can’t stress how important it is to start them right from birth if possible. They will just grow up in the mindset that this is where we have always come, what we have always done, how we have always done it, and it’s just the flow of their life and part of their heart. When the doubts creep in, remember, the Holy Spirit can do AMAZING things. MIRACLES, if you think your children need one. : ) Pray on it. but most of all, EXPECT IT.

    Sorry…it was long anyway. But shorter. : )

  3. I would add:

    Put on the ears, eyes, and sentiment of those around you. It’s common courtesy to allow everyone around you, young and old alike, the respect of having them mostly be able to concentrate on the Mass, to pray for their special intentions and pray along with the Mass in peace and full attention. Though most can and do “look the other way” and understand it’s hard for children to sit through Mass, at some point you have to realize you are disrupting and ruining the Mass and solemn worship and spiritual direction experience for others if you do not effectively handle your children, which can include taking them outside the building to have a heart to heart chat about behavior, expectations and consequences. Taking them out, and a few minutes of time-out consequences, would be appreciated by your pew mates who simply want to hear the Mass, participate, pray, and benefit from it, in peace.

    Going to Mass is voluntary, in a way. If you understand and agree with the whole rationale of the Mass, why the Mass is there for us, why the Church asks us to attend regularly and the obligations thereof, then you are a voluntarily practicing Catholic. It will indeed be something you’ll want to share with your children so they too develop a love and dedication for the practice of their faith. If attending Mass is a weekly dreaded chore for you, and you can’t even remember what the readings or homily were about and the entire Mass is an exercise in frustration dealing with the kids’ behavior, then it’s you who need to re-examine why you’re there and why you’re bringing your children there. When your children are napping or away at being cared for or at school, find out online some Catholic explanations of the Mass, what it means, what each part means, the origins of it all in the Gospels and scripture. If you are convinced and knowledgeable about the Mass, why you’re there, what Our Lord has for us in the Mass, how it replicates His passion and death on the cross and the institution of Holy Eucharist, then that in turn will guide you into discipline and boundary setting practices for the whole family the next time all of you attend Mass.

    It just goes for Mass, any church or public services, theater, movie theaters, any audience-performance-type event: The audience or congregation is reasonably there to pay attention to the main focus of why they are gathered. You are not at home watching TV on the couch. Reasonably prepping of young children ahead of time and reasonable courtesy and consideration of others is expected. The advice in the article is all good.

    In addition to

  4. The article is meant tongue in cheek; to have a laugh at the sufferings that every mother has at one point endured but I disagree that going to mass is like any other public service or theatre. We go to mass out of love, out of obligation.

    Going to mass is voluntary in that we have free will, but as Catholics, it is our obligation as part of our obedience to God’s will. Going to mass is not merely a means of advancing our relationship with God and others through God. It is spiritual food. It is necessary. We do not need to simply understand the rationale behind going to mass. Else, we could all sit at home and read the catechism and be done with it. It is important to understand what Mass is, what Mass means, and to actually participate in Mass. We receive more than we bring; whether we feel a moment of epiphany or not, whether the music is good or not, whether the congregation is quiet or not. Why are we there and why we bring our children, it is for our formation and that of our children; for the witness to others and to witness others, for our petitions and prayers and for those of all who come and all we love and all who suffer. But ultimately, we come because of the Eucharist.

    The Eucharist is not available any other way. We come to be present to Christ with all our flaws, failings, misunderstandings, frustrations, sins and presumed virtue. We will many times despite instruction, despite prepping, despite strategies, despite pre-planning, miss the mark. But we can take comfort in the knowledge that if we do, we’re in good company, a lot of the apostles didn’t understand until the breaking of the bread after death, Jesus took them as they were and made them more. Hopefully, in presenting ourselves, flawed as we are, noisy as we are, God will make us more than we were by our obedience and willingness to come to Him in the mass with our willing receiving of Him.

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