7 Basic Strategies for Survival at Mass with Young Children

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Going to Mass with young children can be challenging, to put it nicely. Despite how that, going to Mass with young children IS Worth It. It’s not meant for fun or entertainment or even relaxation. Sometimes Mass is Calvary and sometimes it’s the Resurrection. The catch is that you don’t get to pick. You just have to try and accept it for what it is.

Mass with Young Children Calvary

To encourage and support you in this holy endeavor, here are…

~ 7 Basic Strategies for Survival at Mass with Young Children ~

1. Come as prepared as you can.

Try and plan ahead and allow time to give the little people some form of nutrition before heading out the door so they aren’t “starving” and whining all about it in the pew.

That said, when we go, the four-year-old is usually finishing off his cereal en route and the baby is still in his jammies, bed head and all.

2. Distraction & redirection.

Bring items like books & toys that you can throw at your kids when they start losing focus – if they ever had it.

— I keep a tub in our car with “church books” the kids can pick to bring in with them. When we forget ours, our parish’s cry room has a basket of “lost and forgotten” kids’ books to borrow. Some of the Touch and Feel animal books have helped get us through some unstable times with the baby as well.

— For toys, we keep a bag in the diaper bag filled with special and appropriate toys for Mass time to help distract and ‘entertain’ the little ones who have no real interest in staying in the same place for any amount of time. Be careful what you put in here though. Stay away from anything that beeps, buzzes, lights up or makes any other sound. Keep the wind-up cars at home to avoid chasing runaway toys under the pews and up the altar.

— Notebook and crayons – Blank paper + colors = minutes of focused fun. It’s the simple things sometimes. You can even give the artwork to the priest as a peace offering after Mass.

3. Deflect & ignore.

I picked this idea up from this crazy lady with big hair who goes to daily Mass every day, even in the summer, with her FIVE young offspring. When it comes to annoying behavior at Mass, if in doubt, pretend like you didn’t see it.

Seriously, unless it’s hurting someone or damaging church property, or causing too big of a raucous – it can wait. I used to spend way too much time correcting my kids about things that in the end really don’t matter. They won’t go to hell if they don’t kneel and stand when everyone else is.

Sometimes, the less attention you give them the less they try and irritate you. (However, that rule isn’t written in stone unfortunately.) My four-year-old likes to scowl at me when I tell him “no” about something. I usually either ignore him or scowl back.

4. Location, location, location.

There are really only two good options when picking your pew. Either sit as far away from other people as you can or march right up to the front so the kids can see what’s going on instead of staring at (and trying to poke) people’s backsides the whole time.

When I’m flying solo, I like to sit in the last pew at the back so we’re not getting in anyone’s view or making anyone nauseous from all the up movement. This also provides quick and easy access to the exit in case of emergencies. (Like throw-up and ‘time-outs’.)

5. Walk out when needed.

Sometimes you can only distract and redirect so much until it becomes impossible to keep a young and energetic child in one place. It’s okay if you have to get up and take a little walk in the back of the church.

I know some moms who live for the cry room and others who loathe it. It just depends on what works for you and each child in each situation. Mass isn’t a competition to see who can keep their children in their pew the longest or who can look holiest.

6. Abandon your expectations.

If you have certain ideas about how you think Mass with your littles should go, get rid of them. Check them at the doors and bless yourself with the holy water.

Going to Mass with young children is NOT the same as going to Mass alone. It’s also NOT the same as when you were single and had no clue what children were really like. Accept this or fail.

Every Mass experience will be different. It’s important to note that your Mass experience with your children will also differ from that of another parent’s so don’t compare. As another good friend of mine with normal-sized hair said so well, each Mass experience is different; know that each time you go “this is the Mass you’re supposed to have.”

7. Pray – You are at Mass.

You go there to PRAY. The Mass is a PRAYER. So PRAY!

Even if your only prayer is, “Lord, save me from these children!!!” It acknowledges that you NEED Him and that’s a good start. If you’re blessed, He’ll hear that prayer and might even save you from yourself in the process.

So if you’re running on fumes and need a little extra grace, try Mass. It sounds crazy. It might drive you crazy. In fact, I can guarantee it will refine you.

But after you get used to it, it will be worth it. I promise. The eternal benefits for you and your children outweigh the temporary and earthly hardship.

What tools and tips do you use at Mass with young children?

Copyright 2013 Erika Marie

[For the original and full version of this post vist Erika Marie’s Simplemama blog for a way longer and much more honest version of Going to Mass with Young Children.]

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About Author

Erika Marie is a simple Catholic, Wife, and Mama. She relishes snuggles and free time with her family and enjoys reading, writing, blogging, and has a slightly obsessive addiction to creating Canva graphics.
Enjoy more reflections by Erika at her personal simplemama blog.

22 Comments

  1. Great tips! It isn’t always easy, but it is possible, to take kids each weekend. it’s only an hour out of your week, and even when you think the kids aren’t listening, they are! It’s so good for themt o be there.

    I just love #3! It’s so true. The most stressful Masses for me are the ones where I am constantly correcting the kids and asking them to sit still and be quiet and leave eachother alone. Relax, pray, and it will be fine….sometimes. Other times they may throw a fit, but again, it’ll be over befoer you know it.

    • Enjoyed your article on bringing children to Mass. Jesus loved children to be near Him. My son died and while at Mass there is a young boy, 8 yrs old, that looks just like my son at that age. I love to look at him and then pray for my son even more. Told his Mom and she was glad that I enjoyed children at Mass. Its a wonderful road to take, being a parent. So much love to be given and received. Congratulations to you. I had four children, three boys and one girl. .

  2. So glad this was helpful to others!
    Mo – it’s true, whenever I focus on everything the kids are doing wrong is when I feel most stressed. I think part of the stress comes from a concern that we are bothering others around us who may not know why I’m ignoring my child or why I’m letting them sit on the floor or raise the kneeler up and down (quietly) over and over.

    • Yes, I often think I am bothering others around us, but at the same time, children should be at Mass and others need to understand this. Thankfully, my Parish is very kid friendly, and our Priest often makes announcements regarding the kids being noisy asking others to congratulate parents for bringing their young ones, and to not give dirty looks.

      • There wonderful, Mo, to be in a kid friendly parish like that. Ours is the same way. I’ve never received any dirty looks, that I know of.
        I’d like to write another article about why we should bring our kids to Mass.

  3. Charisse Tierney on

    “This is the Mass you’re supposed to have.” I love that! Thank you so much–I love the tips and your sense of humor!

  4. I love your tips. My kiddos are 4 and almost 6.

    At this point, it’s possible for me to talk to them before Mass (promising various bribes/treats or dire punishments if necessary).

    Something else that has worked/works really well with my son (almost 6) is sitting in the front and letting him watch the priest closely. I also whisper what the priest is doing or what’s going on in Mass as it happens.

    I’ve also had luck asking them (individually) to count things on the altar. Even if they count in a loud whisper, I figure that’s better than singing Twinkle twinkle or talking to themselves or me.

    My kiddos also LOVE that I sing in the choir (actually I am the choir along it’s the piano-player/cantor). They know all the sung responses and anticipate them with great joy. Even when they were really young, (even in the womb) singing has always calmed them and brought them great joy. We borrowed a songbook from our church and I sing to them from that book before bed sometimes. Then, when those songs are part of the Liturgy, they gleefully sing along.

    BTW I love your name – mine is the same (even spelling)!!!! 😀

    • Erika – with a “K”!
      My seven year old loves sitting up close where he can see also. When he was younger I didn’t think he was paying any attention. Then, one day after Mass, he got our bible out and held it up, sang the Alleluia, and said, ” The Gospel of the Lord.” He then proceeded to “read” the Gospel and even gave a little homily, repeating words from the homily we’d just heard. I never questioned his attention after he started that.
      I like your idea of counting things on the alter. Sometimes I play “I Spy” with things from the alter area with the four year old and that keeps him “entertained” while also focusing on why we are there. I love that you sing with them out of church. They’ll never get those songs out of their heads!

  5. I am the mother of 9, 6 under the age of 6, at one time. One day on the way to daily mass I asked myself “Why are you doing this”? The answer was easy, because I love you God. Remember that and it becomes a bit easier.
    I also believe that the more involved your child, the easier it becomes. When the readings are going on, “listen to the story”, when the homily is being given “Father is explaining the story”, during the consecration “Jesus is here in a special way, can you see him”? Another great distraction during the consecration, “All the angels and saints are here, do you see any of them?” How about “this is the miracle, did you see it?” After communion when it is almost time to go try “The priest is clearing the table after our meal, just like at home, is he done yet?”
    I personally never allowed toys for my children at mass after they were about 2 years old. It encourages them not to participate and I took them often. I always thought it was my job to get them filled with sanctifying grace, and God’s job to take care of them afterwards.
    I think it worked. My older kids still make the occassional weekday mass.

  6. Rule #1 for holy Mass with crying potentials.

    Attend the holy traditional Latin Mass complete with the Asperges Me. This action just prior to holy traditional Latin Mass is important for the people and their babies. It is, of course, an Exorcism. It is very efficacious for casting out obnoxious demons who would like to cause trouble while we attend the holy traditional Latin Mass.

    Fortunately the are usually only successful in causing trouble at the modern Mass which is typically in the vernacular; that is, the Mass where babies cry and children whine. It is a circular association the modern Mass, and the reasoning for why children are difficult at this modern Mass are difficult is circular as well.

    There is no exorcism in either the blessed water in the fonts and no exorcism in the rites. This is unlike the holy traditional Latin Mass where the water in the fonts is exorcised and contains exorcised salt and there is a rite of exorcism before the holy traditional Latin Mass, and the incense in the thurible which wafts into the lungs of the faithful is also blessed and holy in a different way than in the modern Mass which commonly in the vernacular.

    Babies do not cry at the holy traditional Latin Mass.

    • A hyperbole, surely. Most of the homilies I listen to on audiosanctio, given by traditional priests, are peppered with little one’s cries. Of course the homilies are given in English so perhaps that allowed the demonic entry.

  7. Lots of good thoughts here, Erika. One thing I did with toddlers was take an old purse and made it into a “church” purse and filled it with all sorts of quiet oddities, just look for things around the house. Also some holy cards on a ring. The toddlers would open the purse and explore, just like they like to do with your real purse, but this was pre-screened for that purpose. Won’t work forever, but will give you some mileage. Also we had simple rules for our under 5’s: Sit when we sit, stand when we stand, kneel when we kneel, say the prayers that you know. Simple, easy to remember, easy to rehearse on the way to Mass. Also, I think frequent weekday Masses are helpful, they are shorter and sometimes you can wander around after, exploring the church and teaching. Don’t let the devil keep you and the children from Mass, remember God want to see His children!

  8. I have been taking my sons to Church by myself since they were in diapers. I’m an anomoly unfortunately but can honestly say that my boys have behaved 99.9% of the time. Don’t take this the wrong way but most of the time I see kids misbehaving in Church it’s because the father isn’t present either physically or has left the discipline up to the Mom when it comes to Church. If I pray or sing my boys take notice. They realized from a young age that something important is happening because Dad takes this seriously. Is it easy to go by myself and do this, honestly no. I wish more fathers would be present and in my heart I think many of the behavioral issues wouldn’t materialize. …many but not all 🙂

    God bless

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