How to Take Toddlers to Mass.
Getting through Mass with toddlers can be a challenge to say the least! Their inability to sit still for long periods of time accompanied by their ability to be very honest about how they’re feeling whether they are expressing that with words or not can give even veteran mamas a run for their money.
Here are my 5 strategies for how to take your toddler to Mass.
So how do we not just “get through” mass, but actually experience it with a little one in tow? Here are a few ideas to get you started.
1. Adjust your expectations.
If you were Catholic while in college (and especially if you went to a Catholic school) then you may have had a similar experience to me. Daily mass on the regular, adoration often, and confession every here and there. Our experience the faith as a mom of little ones feels so different compared to that!
Mass is rarely the immersive experience that it once was. Maybe we don’t feel like adoration is even a possibility with our little ones coming along (more on this in particular later this month!). And forget about confession unless we're able to get someone to tag team with us!
Today we’re just talking about the Mass, but I think this tip (and the others) is super relevant to everything when it comes to tackling life with toddlers.
Chances are that your toddler behaves like a regular toddler does. They want to move their body, they want to speak their mind, and they want to be a part of whatever it is that you are doing. It’s so important to keep this in mind when we are experiencing the mass with them!
It’s okay, and good that your little one is behaving the way that is typical for their age! With toddlers every Mass becomes an opportunity for them to learn how to behave in a prayerful and quiet way, we can gently correct them and take them out if they start losing their minds, but reframing the Mass experience in this way helps us to have a posture of teaching and learning rather than that of a rigid dictator.
And trust me that the Lord will speak to you through the quiet (and not so quiet) moments during the Mass!
2. Hold your kiddos.
This is a tip that I learned from Dr. Greg and Lisa Popcak in their book “Then Comes Baby”. When we hold our kiddos close during Mass they are able to feed off of our energy and we are able to easily draw their attention to what is going on in the sanctuary.
When you have multiple little ones this can sometimes be a challenge, so my husband and I typically trade off holding the baby and then our other girls like to be held on and off as the Mass progresses.
We especially do this when we have to take anyone out of Mass if they are losing it. We do this first because being held often helps them to re-regulate and come back into control of their bodies, but also because we don’t want being taken out of church to become something fun that they cry in the middle of Mass to get.
Our one year old is extremely mobile and wiggly so it feels like we’re getting a workout in, but we’ve seen how helpful this has been for our big girls so it’s something that we stick to pretty religiously.
3. Pack a mass bag.
A bag full of religious themed quiet toys or books can be a lifesaver during Mass (These are a great addition to your mass bag too!). I’m embarrassed by how often we forget ours, but keeping it in the car at all times helps a lot!
4. Sit closer to the front and tell them what’s going on.
When your little ones are big enough to notice what’s going on it can be super helpful to sit where they can see the sanctuary and then let them know what’s happening through the Mass so they can start to follow along.
We’ve recently started telling our girls about how all of the saints and angels are worshiping with us, especially during the consecration, and we’ll ask them who they think is there today.
We also especially draw their attention to the consecration and talk about how the priest is asking the Holy Spirit to come and turn the bread and wine into the body and blood of Jesus, and then we also say “Look, there’s Jesus!” When the priest lifts the Eucharist into the air for us to see.
5. Load up on snacks on the way to church.
We noticed that giving our girls a snack in the car on the way to church helped their behavior in Mass immensely! Typically they each have a banana or a pancake. When they aren’t hungry they have an easier time having calm bodies and calming down when they do get upset!
Bonus: When it feels like things are going from bad to worse…. Very quickly.
Sometimes our kids have a full on meltdown during Mass (almost always during the consecration, right?!). When this happens it is so easy for us to lose our heads, get discouraged or wonder why we even bring them in the first place when it’s so hard!
First, take them to the back of church, to the church hall or to the cry room, wherever it makes sense at your church and give them a few minutes to calm down. Are they tired? Hungry? Thirsty? Little ones can be easily overwhelmed by all of the stimuli of lots of people, music, and the up and down of kneeling and sitting and standing so taking them somewhere that is quiet to re-regulate can be really helpful.
Second, maybe you spend the rest of the Mass standing at the back. That’s okay! Remember that each Mass we are giving our kiddos the opportunity to encounter Jesus and we are allowing ourselves to encounter (and be encountered by) him too. Our worshiping together is so worth it! Even when it feels like you spend every week in the back of church your kiddos are being affected just by being in His presence, and you are being strengthened for your vocation by receiving the graces offered through the Eucharist.
Third, I know that it can be so easy to worry about how our kids are affecting others' worship experience. Especially so if we get rude feedback from the people around us. You can let those people know (and remind yourself) that Jesus wants your kiddos to be there, and he loves them just as much as he loves the person who is making a stink.
In the end, we don’t really have control over how our kiddos behave, and all we can do is try to set them up for success! Remember that every mass is an opportunity for them to learn how to be at Mass and worship alongside us and an opportunity for us to receive graces from God too. It’s okay if it doesn’t go perfectly, it’s okay if it feels like everything is on fire. Keep persevering because you’re doing the good work. When you're in the trenches it can feel endless but soon it won’t be so much work to bring the whole gang to church.
Don’t forget you’re a great mom!