My two little girls are 3 and 1 and we’ve been bringing them to Mass regularly since they were born. I’ll admit, when they were in the sleepy newborn stage attending Mass with them wasn’t all that difficult as long as they were fed and comfortable. When they reached the “I-want-to-grab-everything” stage is when things started to get challenging. While I can’t promise you a perfect “before-you-had-kids” Mass experience, these tips can help relieve some stress when you attend Mass as a family.
Before you go
Make sure your children are dressed comfortably and have already eaten (at least a snack). If you can attend Mass at a time when they are not ready for a nap that also helps tremendously.
Small, non-messy snacks (and wipes)
Some parishes frown upon snacking in church and I don’t recommend having tons of food, but a small bag with simple snacks can help. I’ve used Cheerios (doled out 1-2 at a time), string cheese, and fruit/veggie pouches (with adult help). There was a phase when my (now) 3-year-old would look forward to snacks in church and it helped her to sit still and quietly for a short time.
Quiet books and small, quiet toys
My 3-year-old now often asks me if she can bring a toy or book into the church (I’ve had to nix a few noisy ones). You can also keep a bag of toys that are specifically for Mass times only. If these toys are not played with daily and are only used during trips to Mass they will most likely hold your child’s attention longer and be more exciting to her.
My 1-year-old is hard to occupy, but she loves small board books and things that aren’t toys (keys, pens, lint) so often I can easily distract her with items from my bag or her older sister’s bag.
Small notebook and pens
Our parish has small, blank cards in each pew specifically for small children to draw on, but I also usually bring a small notebook and pen in my bag or purse. My daughter enjoys drawing and this often keeps her attention for a little bit.
One day my 3-year-old was sitting in my lap while the priest read the gospel and I started drawing the scene he was reading. She had asked me to draw so I started drawing a picture of the gospel (in a simple way to relate it to her) and she liked it. The next time we were at mass she asked me to “draw what the priest is saying”. This kept her attention and helped give a teeny insight into the gospel.
Sit where you feel comfortable
Many people have told me to near the front of the church so my children can see. I tried this once when I had only my oldest daughter and everything went very well. With little ones I prefer to sit near an exit for a quick escape in an emergency.
Have reasonable expectations
Let your children wiggle – it’s normal. If you need to, take them out into the vestibule for a little bit. I do this often for my 1-year-old. And, most of all, understand that you probably won’t get everything (anything?) out of the Mass and that’s ok too. When we take our girls to Mass I expect that I will be distracted, so I read the Mass readings early in the morning before going to church. This way, I’ve at least heard them once. I honestly admit that I often don’t hear the readings, gospel or homily very well, if at all. The point is that my intention is to worship God as a family and be an example to my children.
Our current parish is extremely welcoming to families with little children and this helps relieve a lot of pressure off of me. Don’t be afraid of bringing your small children to Mass. Be graceful and patient with yourself. Taking care of small children is hard! Try your best and give yourself a break if things don’t go as planned. Take your child to the foyer, take a deep breath and try again. Following these tips can help make the experience a little bit more relaxing and peaceful.
Need some tips for praying the Rosary with your small children, check out this post.
Please share your experiences or suggestions in the comments.