6 Tips for Little Ones at Holy Mass

“Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” (Matthew 19:14)

A girl wears a face covering as Father Rafael Saiz holds Christmas Mass outdoors at St. Mary's Catholic Church on Dec. 25, 2020, in Los Angeles.
A girl wears a face covering as Father Rafael Saiz holds Christmas Mass outdoors at St. Mary's Catholic Church on Dec. 25, 2020, in Los Angeles. (photo: Mario Tama / Getty Images)

As a young mother of a growing family, Mass is both a haven and a challenge. If I’m lucky, my 1-year-old will sleep through the majority of the liturgy in the arms of my husband, and we can all enjoy receiving the sacrament. Other days, we are constantly going back and forth from the back of the church to our pew. I look at other families and wonder how we will ever grow away from this stage and whether we are doing everything in our power to teach our young ones how to behave during our most important practice. While we do not want to punish them for being children, we do want to discipline them for naughtiness and set age-appropriate expectations.

On a mission to prepare our family for success, I sought answers. While every family is different, we received many recurring tips from other families about promoting appropriate behavior during Mass that may help your family, too.  

 

1. Sit Up Front. Although this arrangement may mean a longer walk to the back of the church in the case of a tantrum, children can engage so much more if they see more than their fellow parishioners’ backs.

 

2. Whisper Answers Back to Little People’s Questions. While being discreet, questions about the Mass should be answered. A child will not remember his questions after Mass, and as long as he is being respectful, receiving answers will encourage him to really think about what is happening. You can quietly point out the important moments, such as the Consecration: “Look! There’s Jesus!”

Encourage dialogue after Mass. Talk about the homily and readings, why the priest wore a special color, etc.

 

3. Promote Participation. Attend daily Mass if you are able. This practice provides children the “practice” they need to prepare them for the longer Sunday Masses.

Having a “job” at Mass gives little ones a feeling of accomplishment and maturity. This responsibility can be as simple as putting the money into the collection basket, [AS1] finding the correct page in the missal, or lighting (with help, of course) a candle to pray for deceased family members or for their own intentions.

Consider taking them on a “church tour” sometime during the week or after Mass. Ask your parish deacon, priest or sacristan to show the kids — up close — the places of the church they don’t otherwise get to see and explain what occurs there. The ambo, the tabernacle and the altar can all excite a child’s curiosity.

 

4. Prepare as Much as Possible. If you start your day off in an angry hustle to get to the church on time, your time spent at Mass will have a much rougher start. If you start strong, you’re more likely to finish strong!

Lay out clothes the night before, pack diaper bags beforehand, and have breakfast in time.

Practice Mass skills at home or before/after Mass. You can practice genuflecting, making the Sign of the Cross and singing some of the more common, simple Mass songs around the house. 

 

5. Treat the Back of the Church/Cry Room as Undesirable. Being inside the Mass is preferable to being taken out back or to the cry room. When going into the back is necessary, avoid setting little ones down to run around or giving snacks or toys. Otherwise, they will associate their misbehavior with receiving a reward. Rather, keep them in your arms and give an age-appropriate explanation addressing their misbehavior.


6. Celebrate Sundays. You may want to consider bringing along “Mass bags” with soft toys and age-appropriate Mass or Bible books. These may be used respectfully while not detracting from the sacrament. Having something “special” to look at for young ones can be an exciting part of their Sunday.

Dress to impress! We want our children to understand that where we are going and what we are doing is special, which our clothing can communicate.

Give them rewards after Mass that you can share as a family. While snacks are distracting during Mass, enjoying a special meal or snack afterward can be an excellent reward, while giving children something to look forward to each weekend. If your parish has a coffee-and-doughnut social after Mass, this is a great way to participate in parish life as well as rejoice at what occurred at Mass.

 

COVID Expectations: Virtual Mass

  • Make virtual Mass reverent. Prepare a “holy space” in your home with holy cards, statues and candles. Continue performing the motions of the Mass (sit, stand, kneel).
  • Dress in your Sunday best. 
  • Give children the opportunity to participate by blowing out candles or by arranging holy figures and sacred art, etc.
  • When you return to in-person Mass, be prepared for another learning period. Be patient with the learning curve.

I hope these tips will help all of us teach our children the importance of Mass while respecting the sacrament. As our children grow and gain younger siblings, the hard work we are doing now will allow our older children to be instrumental examples to the younger children. In the meantime, we can ask for the grace from God to endure the more trying times of the teaching process. With healthy instruction and reassurance, our children will come to respect the Mass as much as we do.

The Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Missouri, and the Mississippi River are seen from East St. Louis, Illinois, on June 27. Following the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision on June 24, abortion is now banned in Missouri. The nearest clinics to St. Louis are across the river in Illinois, including a Planned Parenthood in Fairview Heights that was opened in 2019 in anticipation of the overturn of Roe v. Wade.

Welcome to Post-Roe America

Every year on the anniversary of Dobbs, Catholics will be able to deepen their understanding of God’s role in the conception of every child, his care for the child’s growth, his knowing each by name, and the future for which he has given each child life.