Ten Tips to Manage your Toddler at Mass
You know the drill. It took you FOREVER just to get them dressed and ready for Mass! The car seat struggle, the loading and unloading kids, stuff and if you are lucky you will remember your car keys and not lock them in the car. Mass hasn’t even started; you are exhausted… then, the real battle begins, getting though Mass with your toddler.
You open the Church doors and glance at the cry room, debating in your head, you choose the Church proper and walk in. Asking help from the Holy Spirit, you and your husband hope to get through the entire Mass and maybe even hear a little bit of the Homily.
Many of us have been where you are right now and want to encourage you with these 10 tips which are based on a discussion we had on Facebook.
“We always sat close to the front.” Anita Healy
Giving children a focal point and teaching them what is happening at Mass, may help keep their interest (when they can see and even participate).
”Bring snacks, water and books.” Michelle Falzon or “Don’t give them food or drink at Mass.”
Tara Barco, recommends Children’s Bibles specifically be used during Mass. Another mom had a special dedicated diaper bag, with special Catholic items that was just used on Sundays.
While there is some disagreement (among moms) and even a difference among what individual churches prefer or allow; some moms are totally opposed to giving their toddlers food or juice during Mass, other moms swear by it.
Most seasoned moms agreed that small children do need something to get the through the hour of Mass. Sylvia Zhukas reminds breastfeeding moms of the built-in portability and convenience of breastfeeding a fussy little one (done discreetly, of course) to keep them content and quiet.
Some moms suggest Sunday Mass is a wonderful opportunity for your child to be trained in a little bit of self denial, the Mass is only an hour after all. Why not feed them before Mass or promise them a little something after the Mass is over.
“Get them engaged with the things [events] around them.” Michelle Falzon
When little ones become familiar with the statues and Catholic symbols around them, they are more engaged in the Mass. When my children were little, I would whisper to them during the Consecration, “Don’t miss the miracle, Jesus is right there!!” Their own enthusiasm grew during that part of the Mass, because they witnessed it in my own attitude.
“If you can, go to daily Mass and stay after to practice being quiet.” Brenda Vogsland
We also used daily Mass to help our children learn the rhythm of the Mass and to explain what was happening at each part. If your parish priest is open to it, perhaps ask if he can do a teaching Mass for your little ones, so that they are more engaged in what is happening.
Bring Saint dolls and religious toys to Mass. Margaret Layman and Brittany Strausbaugh. Dorothy Pilarski recommends plastic (or children’s) rosaries. She found her daughter loved stacking hymnals or flipping through her own toddler prayer books by Fr. Lovasik. Lucy Azevedo liked bringing cardboard prayer books.
Keep little hands busy, while still focusing on holy things!
“My husband and I try to read the readings before or after [Mass].” Maureen Poland
Part of getting through the difficult toddler years, is finding ways to still grow and feed ourselves spiritually. Reading the Gospel early, listening to homilies on line or even just spending time discussing them as a couple, can help us keep our focus on the Lord, even if we cannot focus at Mass.
“We take turns taking the younger ones to the back of the church.” Maureen Poland
Sharing the responsibility is a wonderful way to live out our marriage vows and grow in appreciation of each other.
Accept that it is difficult. A statistics professor I know, once figured out the probability and stats for how many children they had, the ages and number of interruptions during Mass they should expect. He was very surprised that his seven children actually caused disturbances less times than the statistical probability. The moral of that story is that our children often behave much better than it seems to us.
Occasionally, go to Mass a second time… alone! It is exhausting a frustrating to feel as if you parented all through Mass and missed everything. Treat yourself, or your spouse, to an occasional Mass alone so that you can concentrate on what is said. Ironically, you will probably miss your children and even the distraction they provide. When my kids grew older, I found myself having to retrain my own brain to stay focused all Mass.
“Keep going till they get it.” Rezna Ellis
It is difficult to get through these stages (my son once tried to climb the Paschal Candle), but God will give you the grace to do it. If we give up, then our children will think that faith is an option, not a commitment. One day, you make it through Mass without incident and you wonder when the transition happened! Don’t give up, keep going and remember that God’s grace is sufficient for every stage of our lives and our children’s.
Mary Lou Rosien
Mary Lou Rosien BSW, MA is the RCIA Coordinator at St. Leo Church in Hilton, New York. She is the author of Managing Stress with the Help of Your Catholic Faith (OSV) and Catholic Family Boot Camp (Bezalel Books). Mary Lou is also a columnist with Catholicmom.com, and AmazingCatechists.com