You’ve all arrived safely, though not without event, at Sunday Mass, and you settle into a pew. Getting here has been fraught with challenges–packing a diaper bag, dressing everyone, searching for a missing shoe or jacket, AND tackling a last-minute diaper change! So now that you’re finally here, you breathe a deep sigh of relief. Things start off well enough, but soon your little ones begin wiggling and making noise. You feel embarrassed and are worried about distracting others. How can you help your kids behave at Mass?
Remember Jesus welcomes them
The most important thing to remember is Jesus welcomed the little children. Your children are welcome and are an encouragement to the Body of Christ. They are the hope of the Church. You are teaching these precious souls the most important lessons they need to get to Heaven–to pray, to love, and to worship God. You are helping them to love the Holy Mass. He welcomes these children, His children, your children.
But you get discouraged
Even though mothers and fathers have fretted for centuries about their children making too much noise, wiggling around too much, or distracting others, their children are welcome blessings at Mass. They will learn, they will experience the beauty of worshiping Our Lord together, they will grow up to become the next generation of mothers and fathers fretting at Mass. You may feel distracted yourself during these years, but this is the work God has given you, this is your mission. You are serving God by leading these precious souls He has entrusted to you to heaven.
How can you be prepared?
When bringing little ones to Mass, arrange for their physical needs, bring your sense of humor and lots of patience, and try not to worry what others are thinking. Sometimes the more correcting you do during Mass, the more rigamarole it causes. When my daughter and my youngest son would squabble at Mass and I would lean down to whisper corrections, we’d only end up with lengthy whispered objections. I learned to ignore the little things and only correct the critical things. Mostly though, preparation and practice are key. Read on for 7 tips to help your kids behave at Mass.
Key strategies to help kids behave at Mass
When bringing little ones to Mass there are a few key strategies:
Tip 1: First, be prepared for them physically. Keep in mind some age appropriate expectations.
- Hungry chldren are not likely to be on their best behavior. You can make sure to feed them a quick and easy breakfast beforehand, even if it’s dry cereal in the car.
- If they’re very young and trying to fit breakfast in beforehand is stressful, then bring a simple non-messy snack. You can be discreet with it, and careful to tidy up the pew and floor after Mass.
- Likewise, be sure to have a bottle of formula or a nursing cover for baby, or a water sippy for toddlers if needed.
- Remember, we consume the Body and Blood of Christ during Mass. A child might wonder why we are eating at Mass. After Holy Communion, I once heard a little one asking where her snack was. Another learning moment!
- You can decide what is most appropriate for your family in this regard. After all, they won’t have a snack and sippy forever. If you prefer no eating at Mass, try to consider breakfast beforehand essential for your children.
Tip 2: Keep in mind that children are short and have difficulty seeing what’s happening on the altar.
- Even though it’s tempting to stay near the back of church where you can make a quick exit, you can try sitting nearer the front to help them out–helping them pay attention because they’ll be interested in watching what’s going on.
- Try not to worry who’s watching. Try to be considerate, but don’t fret too much. You can walk to the back if they become too loud. You can practice whispering at home so they can learn how to do it ahead of time. Maria Montessori practiced whispering different children’s names from across the room to help them learn to pay attention and listen carefully.
- If they are old enough, give them your offertory envelope or a few coins to put in the Offertory collection. It’s a beginning lesson in giving to the Church and to others. My Grandma T. usually had about dozen grandchildren sleeping over at her house on the weekends. We would go to Mass with her and just before the offertory she’d give us each a quarter to put in the basket. It became a beloved memory as well as a good practice.
Tip 3: Yes, they can be noisy and wiggle a bit! So, you can help them to sit quietly by bringing a small Mass bag with interesting items for them.
- You can choose any small tote bag you have and add a few lift-the-flap books, some laminated holy cards on a ring, a little photo album with pictures of family members for whom they can pray, or perhaps a childrens’ rosary.
- For toddlers, you can include a children’s missal to help them match up the pictures with the parts of the Mass.
- Quietly point out saints’ images or statues in the church or symbols in the stained glass for them.
- For our family’s favorite children’s Catholic book ideas, check out the “Children’s Needs for Faith” section on The Beginner’s Guide to Creating a Catholic Home post.
Tip 4: There are several easy ways you can help them get some extra practice:
- Model reverence for them during Mass. They see each small bow, they watch you sing and pray and follow along in the missalette. Our oldest grandson watched everything his grandpa did at Mass and copied him–picking up the prayer card to say the Creed, folding his hands, bowing–and that was when he wasn’t even two years old yet. They see how you pray after receiving Holy Communion. Another four year old grandson asked me after Communion why I didn’t receive on the tongue. He remembered that I did before Covid, but then we were asked not to do so. I whispered to him that I wasn’t sure I was allowed. He was quiet with his little head bowed for a few minutes, and then he tapped my arm and whispered, “I asked Jesus and He said you’re allowed.” It was so sweet it made me tear up.
- Practice songs and prayers from Mass at home. It’s fun to sing with everyone when you know the tune and the words. And they are so pleased when they know the words to a prayer and can say it with everyone.
- Attend an extra weekday Mass when possible, which is often less crowded and a little shorter, to help your little ones get some low-key practice with behavior at Mass.
- Visit the church with your children during the day when noone else is there and reverently walk around and look at everything together. They can ask all the questions they want at this time and have a chance to become familiar with their parish church. This can help kids behave at Mass. This one is a favorite–children love this!
Tip 5: Take them to Eucharistic Adoration during the week:
- If your parish or a nearby parish offers Eucharistic Adoration one day during the week, take your little ones to visit Jesus in the Eucharist. Plan to stay for only 5 to 10 minutes and let them know they can pray and tell Jesus all the people they want to pray for. My grandson started doing this aloud though, and I didn’t have the heart to tell a child not to pray aloud to Jesus. We were only there a few minutes and the other adorers didn’t seem to mind at all. There were many smiles for him. Adoration helps children know Jesus is present in the Eucharist…they know. It helps many people know.
Tip 6: Take a few extra moments for special things after Mass:
- Kneel down together to say a prayer of Thanksgiving after Mass. This can be a good time to pray simply and slowly, letting a child repeat each line after you. A child who seemed fidgety during Mass can surprise you here with sweet devotion. Sometimes the pace of group prayers is too fast for them to pick up the words. So simplifying and saying it slowly really gives them a chance to learn the words and add their own thoughts.
- For special intentions, go light a candle together after Mass. Children love this and love being able to say special prayers for someone in need. It teaches them a special way to help another person, and it teaches them about asking for the saints’ intercession.
- As a family, get or make a special treat together after Mass–milkshakes, cinnamon rolls, choose your favorite cereal day. It’s a little something to look forward to, and it unites all of you. A caution though–don’t remove it as a punishment for bad behavior at Mass. Show mercy and love and family unity with this.
Tip 7: The last strategy is to keep your sense of humor and bring lots of calm and patience!
- The children are a delight to others! Although you are with them every hour of the day, many people don’t get to see babies and children very often. It is beautiful for others to see families together at Mass–to dream of their future families, or to reminisce about the days when their grown children were small, or to be reassured that when they themselves have passed on, these young ones will carry on the Faith.
- Enjoy the beautiful ability of your children to see everything through fresh and innocent eyes. My mom once told my little sister to pay attention during the Consecration because “Father is holding Jesus.” After watching carefully, my sister exclaimed in a loud whisper, “He ate Him!”
- Most people are edified by watching their parishes grow. They know you are raising the future of the Church. They are happy to have the opportunity to support you with their love and prayers. This is your mission–you are building the Mystical Body of Christ–the most beautiful part of it all!
The last thing you need to know about helping kids behave at Mass
A confession. We didn’t always get all the children to Mass as a family. Sometimes my husband and I took turns going to separate weekend Masses and the kids stayed home. If your children have not yet reached the age of reason, sometimes you might feel a deep need for a calm Mass experience where you can give your full attention. Sometimes you are outnumbered and are struggling to help them all behave at Mass. You can also consider the parish babysitting service if available and if you are comfortable with the idea. Sometimes you might have a sick child. Seek the advice of your pastor on this if you wish.
Children definitely do learn a great deal and receive graces by attending Mass as a family, so resume as soon as possible. Friends and family with larger families than ours did manage to attend Mass as a family regularly and I admire them for it.
In conclusion, Jesus welcomes your children at Mass. They are an encouragement to the Body of Christ. Prepare for their needs beforehand, and bring your patience and sense of humor to Mass. You are teaching these precious souls the most important lessons they’ll need to get to Heaven and be happy with God for eternity. This is what matters most. You are doing a good job–a Most Important Work! Our Good Lord will surely bless you for it and grant you all the graces you need.
Do you have any favorite tips to share to help kids behave at Mass?
I would love to hear your ideas for helping your kids behave and learn to love the Mass. Please share in the comments!