Getting the Most Out of Mass with a Toddler


If you don’t regularly attend Mass with a toddler, then you probably have a fantastic spiritual life. You probably arrive to church on time or even early. You get to listen to the readings and homily. You don’t just spout out responses from rote memory instead of a place of true spiritual understanding. You get to attend Mass without carrying Cheerios, an extra diaper and some sort of book about Jesus that you hope is interesting enough to keep someone’s attention for an hour.

Or, maybe you do struggle with this stuff, because, well, we are all human and it happens.

Regardless of the reason, I think we all occasionally find ourselves in Mass thinking about anything but Mass. And, because this season of my life means that this happens to me more often than not, I have had to come up with a few ways to participate in Mass the best I can in hopes of providing some sort of example for my kids. After all, Matthew 19:14, right?

So, what do I do?

Pray for Passers-By

Communion is a hard time for us in Mass. Some people are sitting, some are kneeling, some people are getting up to walk in line. Some people sing, some are silent in prayer, and this is all incredibly distracting for a toddler – and therefore, me.

So, while I am looking around, I try to notice the people in the church. I look at their faces, their children, their emotions, and I simply ask God to bless them. If this is the only prayer I can manage during this time, then darn it, I’m doing it.

Repeat “Thank You” and “Help”

But, you know, that’s not the only prayer I can manage. Sometimes I find myself just repeating the words “thank you” or “help”. I might even just list my joys and concerns in litany fashion. The Lord knows my heart, and he knows what I need. I know my prayers are often feeble, but thankfully He is there to take care of the rest.

Go By the Book

I love when churches provide missals. I am already a visual learner, so I have a hard time focusing without something in front of my face. Having the readings in front of me gives me a guide to follow along with. I can also use it with my kids and run my fingers along the words as they are read. This works about 40% of the time… If the church I am visiting does not provide missals, there are other options: bring your own, download one on your phone (I am seeing this more and more), or read the readings ahead of time or afterwards.

What Are Your Tricks?

So, while I am in a time of my life where church is more about teaching another person how to behave and how to pray the Mass, I am not able to really immerse myself the way I tried to before children. These simple things might seem insubstantial, but they make all the difference in my experience.

What tricks do you have for participating in Mass when it seems impossible?

Copyright 2013 Jenna Hines


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  1. Christian Adams on

    Jenna, I can totally relate. My wife is a non believer, so I take my toddler to mass with me when I can. My son is still an infant, so Lord knows how I am going to do it with two when the time comes. Often times when I do pray, I will find my daughter laying under the pew or messing with people behind me. It is tough, but I have learned patience more with her than I ever could without attending Mass, and in the end I realize (as many have stated), that most folks love seeing her there- to the point they ask me where she is when she is not! Keep up the fight! God Bless! ~Christian (

    • Jenna@CallHerHappy on

      It is always so wonderful to hear about a dad who makes it a priority to bring his kids to Mass. After all, you are the spiritual leader of your family :) (Not that most men don’t bring their children to Mass, but it’s still nice to hear!)

      I know your daughter is learning so much just being there – even if she is making faces at the people behind her 😛

  2. Christian Adams on

    Jenna, I can totally relate. My wife is a non believer, so I take my toddler to mass with me when I can. My son is still an infant, so Lord knows how I am going to do it with two when the time comes. Often times when I do pray, I will find my daughter laying under the pew or messing with people behind me. It is tough, but I have learned patience more with her than I ever could without attending Mass, and in the end I realize (as many have stated), that most folks love seeing her there- to the point they ask me where she is when she is not! Keep up the fight! God Bless! ~Christian (

  3. These are great ideas! We have 4 kids (currently 8, 6, 3, and 8 months) so Mass can sometimes feel like a 3 ring circus! Easter was a prime example because we were at a different church (out of town) so everything was new and exciting. Our middle son (who has ADHD) couldn’t sit still, our 3 year old had to be taken out on several occasions, our 8 year old was whinny and kept trying to lay down and the 8 month old wanted to be fed but the cry room was full! A long time ago I decided that if the only thing I get out of Mass on occasion is Communion than that is enough for this stage of my life. I think changing our expectations can help a lot! Right now Mass for us is about teaching our children to sit, stand and kneel when appropriate. Teaching them prayers and responses. Getting them to join in songs. Some weeks I get more out of Mass than others, but once I stopped putting so much pressure on myself to have perfect children at Mass it helped so much! Some of my favorite tools aren’t for me but for them. Having age appropriate Bibles, Mass books and other religious books. Printing coloring sheets from Catholic Mom and other Catholic sites. They aren’t allowed to take toys, food or drinks (except for the infant. We have certain quite toys he can have at Mass and we’ll take some puffs for him to eat). Sometimes if I can keep them “busy” during the readings and Homily they are ready to participate during the Eucharistic prayers and Communion. Those are good days! Sorry for the book! I just feel passionate about this topic! lol Thanks again for some great tips! I’m going to give these a try!

    • Jenna@CallHerHappy on

      Thanks for commenting, Kari!

      You’re totally right – changing expectations is huge. I have had to shift from thinking about Mass as about me (which it never was to begin with, duh!), to being about teaching my children.

      Mass, of course, is about Jesus, and I think nothing makes him happier than to see parents teaching their children how to worship Him!

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  5. Haha….remember, mine were part of the screaming banshee mob in the back of the church at Easter. I find that if we are able to sit closer, that sometimes helps too because she can see what is going on. We also bring kids prayer books so we can follow the Mass with her, though she is noticing that her books are different and is rather indignant about that right now. She wants the grown up missal.

    All in all, it isn’t just about changing expectations, but also perspective. I find that I get ridiculously upset because I feel like people are judging me (probably because I was a former judger myself…oh how the tables turn!) I realized that I needed to attend Mass on her terms to a degree and realize that this stage too shall pass. For now there is no reason to force her to sit still beyond her capacity and lead to an unavoidable meltdown. If we have a gathering area where she can have some more space and we can still participate in the Mass, what’s the big deal? Jesus always deals with us where we are, so why should I treat her any differently. I find the days I just give in to working on her level, I get more out of Mass too because I’m not tying myself up in knots trying to get her to behave in an adult fashion. She’s pretty precocious, but she is 2.

    The baby, well, we shall see how Sir Moves-a-lot does in the coming months…

    • Jenna@CallHerHappy on

      I love that idea of Jesus dealing with us where we are. Isn’t that the truth?

      And, I always want to sit closer. Mike likes the back so we can get her out of there if she acts up, but I think that sitting closer might prevent a lot of the behavior in the first place :)

  6. We have always taken all children with us to Mass. With two sets of twins its no small feat. We have a “church bag”. It includes board books about Jesus, stickers/paper, and such. The more I explain what is happening the more apt they are to listen. Now the two sets are 7 & 4 and they actually sit and listen to 80% of Mass. Which means I get to as well!

    • Jenna@CallHerHappy on

      Two sets of twins! You have been very blessed :)

      And, you’re right. When I think about it, I notice that if I whisper to her about what is going on in the Mass, she pays pretty good attention!

  7. Samantha Heithoff on

    Great suggestions! It’s nice to know I’m not alone in this struggle, and it’s important to remember that this phase too shall pass. I would add that I try to make an effort to pray for each of my children (ages 10, 8 and 3) before mass—especially imploring the Holy Spirit to fill the 3 year old with obedience and a quiet voice(ha!) and that they will each grow in holiness through that time with our Lord. My other suggestion would be to consider sitting as close to the front of the church as possible. I know this may seem counter-intuitive, and it may make for a long walk out to the gathering space if needed, but I truly feel my kids are better behaved and more engaged when they can see what is going on. Thanks again for sharing!

    • Jenna@CallHerHappy on

      Why have I never thought to pray for them before Mass?? What a great suggestion. That is why I am so glad I wrote this. Ya’ll have the best ideas! Thank you :)

  8. My father swore sitting in the front was helpful, and I found it to be true. When we sat in the back, our children had a much more difficult time behaving. It’s a matter of having things in the Mass to hold their attention long enough for you to (hopefully, and occasionally) get in a little catechesis. If you were unsure of what was going on for an hour and only had other people’s rear ends to look at, it would be hard for you to pay attention, too! 😉

    So we’d sit right up front and point out everything happening in hopes that a portion of the Mass was getting into their heads. Eventually, they started looking on their own. The other thing we did was that I took them to daily Mass (starting when they were about 3 & 6) for a while. The shorter Mass (yay) combined with the repetition and extra exposure helped them to learn how to behave at Mass all the time.

    I also loved to use those Gospel Worksheets on this site that had coloring for the little one and multiple choice for the older one. (Yay,!)

    • Jenna@CallHerHappy on

      You know, when I think about it logically, you’re right. I am a short person, and when I sit in the back, all I really see is the back of people’s shirts. I find my own mind wandering. And then I expect a toddler to pay attention. Yeah right!

      Up to the front we must go. Now we just need to get to Mass before the opening song starts!

  9. My oldest is four, and I also have an almost two year old. I have found they behave better when we sit close to the front (about 3rd or 4th row). They’re both crazy about music as well, so I started taking them to the Mass that features drums, piano and youth choir. This type of music is more engaging to them. For myself, I try to read the readings ahead of time and I sometimes will listen to Fr. Barron’s Word On Fire podcast a few days before. Doing those two things has really helped me connect once I’m at Mass. Of course, some days are better than others. On Easter, toward the middle of Mass, I noticed my four year old laying on the floor under the pew. I whispered to him, “you must either stand up or sit down on the bench now!” He glowered at me as he sat down and snapped back, “Mommy, this is called a pew!”

    • Jenna@CallHerHappy on

      hahaha You have taught him well, I see!

      I wonder if we sat right next to the band or choir if that would help too. I can’t hurt to try!

  10. Our family sits in front and that helps a lot. Occasionally I will point the cross out to my five year old and say, “Jesus died on the cross for us, the least we can do is be still and listen.” I also will sometimes bring a children’s Bible. My kids like to do what we are doing so if they have a book then they are more likely to be still as well.

    • Jenna@CallHerHappy on

      This is good. I notice that my daughter is getting to the point that she wants to hold what we are holding. She wants to stand when we are standing. So, if I can get her to imitate more, it would certainly help :)

  11. My husband & I attend mass regularly (nearly every Sunday) with our almost 4 year old son who has autism & is non-verbal. It is difficult but what makes it easier is that our Pastor is very welcoming, even to noise & interruptions…

    I bring a mass “kit”… Cherrios, 2 sippy cups, a favorite figurine (a dinosaur at the moment), a puzzle & a couple of books (one always being “Baby, Come to Church!” by Virginia Esquinaldo.) & a change of clothes…

    It certainly helps that my son loves music… Some masses he is good throughout, only wanting to be held. Some masses, he makes it through the 2nd reading… I grab the missal & bag, take my little one out to the vestibule (this is where the quiet 24 piece puzzle comes into effect) where I can hear the mass from the loud speaker. I read. I also sing into my son’s ear… I come back in for Communion & my son walks up with us as a family. He LOVES it. He also gets a blessing. He smiles & watches.

    I always feel blessed having brought my child, even though it is harder. It is not fair to him not to! :)

    • Jenna@CallHerHappy on

      I can tell just from this comment that you are a really loving and involved mom :) It just makes me smile to hear that you are so proactive in his faith life!

  12. Lol. Ohh…yes. We have 4 kids, 5, 2, and twin 9mos olds. We have no nursery or cry room at our church so we end up pacing in the entry way most of mass, keeping fingers out of holy water, putting brochures back, etc. We miss mass at times as a family but at least myself or my husband will attend. The iPhone with sound off helps the 5yr old who is normally very good, the 2yr old is the one we end up pacing with…we just remind ourselves that we will look back at this and laugh…one day…;) I have 1 church bag for the kids containing crayons, bible coloring books, a Jesus storybook, and a handful of matchbox cars…2 granola bars & 2 sippys of water go in the morning of. My favorite part is when Fr. finishes the homily, my husband and I will look at each other like “YES!!! WE MADE IT! STILL ALIVE! BRING IT ON!”

    • Jenna@CallHerHappy on

      hahah! Yes, that sounds about right! It’s amazing how much more interesting all of the little papers and what not at church are than anything you bring to keep them busy, ya know?

  13. Caroline Winsper on

    We have 5 kids ages 17- 2 years old. We try to sit right up in front of Jesus. That helps so much! Going to mass in the morning is always better then 530 on Saturday as the kds are tired and hungry later in the day. Our church has donuts and fellowship after mass which might be the ONLY reason the little ones like to go to mass! Lol.

    • Jenna@CallHerHappy on

      I think sitting in the front is a big theme in the combox here. Ya’ll must be on to something 😉 And yes, donuts are usually a very good bribery tool haha!

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