“In the adult, the space of acceptance is never whole, yet it is in the child. The child is really capable of listening impartially and unselfishly, the child is receptive to the greatest degree.”
– Sofia Cavalletti, Founder of CGS
Mass with kids. The idea might make you cringe with anxiety at the thought of the annoyed looks, judgy comments or the number of times you have to walk around in the back shushing the baby. Or, you might be in a place where your kids are finally able to sit through Mass but they don’t seem engaged and you’re worried that they don’t care. Either way, it doesn’t seem possible to succeed at Mass with kids.
Our faith is important to us; that’s why we bring our kids to Mass, in hopes that we’ll be able to show them the beauty of our faith!
But what do we do when attending Mass with kids seems to become a hindrance to practicing our own faith and when we spend more time keeping them happy than we do paying attention ourselves?
We’ve all been there. We all want to succeed at Mass with kids. It’s tough but it doesn’t last forever. Knowing that it gets better doesn’t help us get to a place where it’s manageable! So we’re giving our top tips and ideas for how to succeed at Mass with kids!
Preparation can mean so many things: going early to get a seat, bringing toys for the baby and taking your toddler to the bathroom right before mass starts. But when we say preparation for Mass, we’re mainly talking about preparing yourself.
Preparing our children with expectations and meeting big needs before Mass is important for success but when we prepare ourselves, we open ourselves up to grace.
We need Mass more than our kids do, especially our children younger than the age of reason (ages 0-6). We are the sinners there, so we need the grace the Lord provides to be holy parents. So doing things like reading the readings before Mass and getting there early to be able to enter the church without rushing make a big difference – not only for us but for our children!
When we slow down and take in our surroundings, we’re imitating our children! Our youngest kids (ages 0-6), are in a place where they’re absorbing everything around them. And that includes what you do. When we model that awe of the Church environment, we’re giving our children permission to do the same.
Our role in communicating the faith to our children is to remove obstacles so that the Lord can work. Sometimes, we can be an obstacle, particularly if we are rushed, unprepared or unsure how to handle the inevitable disruptions of bringing children to Mass. Having a plan, slowing down and keeping our focus on the gestures of Mass go a long way to being successful at Mass with kids.
Along with preparing ourselves spiritually and mentally for Mass with our kids, we need to make sure we’re preparing the environment for them!
They need to know what to do, what is appropriate behavior and what is coming next.
We do this by preparing them for the environment at Mass. We set boundaries beforehand by explaining our expectations. This gives them a guideline for what behavior is appropriate so when you inevitably have to remind them, you can do so quickly and then go back to paying attention to what’s going on at Mass.
Another aspect of the environment is knowing what is coming. Young children particularly have an innate sense of order, meaning that they thrive when things are in their place and they know what to expect.
The way we can encourage that at Mass is to attend at the same time every Sunday and to sit in generally the same area. Allow them to have a prayer book, journal or rosary each week. For children, it’s predictable and peaceful.
Finally, take a few minutes to look around next time you walk into your parish. Would you say that your parish is a beautiful place? Is there stained glass and religious art?
Awe is a huge part of our faith and is helped along by worshiping in a beautiful place. Even though our children may enter that church every week, they’re seeing it with different eyes. They develop so quickly that it may be like they’re seeing it for the first time every week! So if you can’t say that your parish is beautiful, maybe consider switching parishes.
The way that you correct or redirect behavior matters and is a big part of our children’s Mass experience. If we’re constantly correcting or lecturing during Mass, it’s likely to be a profoundly negative experience for them.
We are going to have to correct behavior, no matter what age our children are! Having a plan and being consistent is key.
Mass isn’t the place for long corrections. Not only does this pull us away from participating, but it shows our children that their behavior is more important than what’s going on.
Quickly and quietly give a reminder and then let them know that you’re praying or paying attention. Then, move on. If they’re still struggling, it’s okay to take a break in the back! But we want to return as soon as we can to communicate to them that what is most important is what’s happening on the altar.
When you have a child younger than 7 years old, you don’t have to expect participation. You can invite them to stand or kneel but it isn’t really necessary that they do so. Their brains are taking in so much more than we can see so while it might seem like they’re playing and not learning anything, that’s okay!
The same thing goes for our teens. Their brains are wired very similarly to a toddler’s at that time so while they might not seem interested, they are taking it all in. While you can definitely expect participation, don’t worry if they seem detached. Just continue to encourage faith-based conversations and prayer at home!
Finally, repetition is key! For any aged child, going to Mass consistently makes it a part of your lives. In younger children, going to Mass regularly gives them that sense of order. They’re used to going and they know what to expect. For older children, it communicates that it’s a priority for your family and leads to deeper understanding and conversations.
Your parish is your community. That connection is important for children of all ages, not just to make friends, but to give them a sense of belonging and to give them a spiritual home. We parents need that community too and building it takes time and consistency!
We can succeed at Mass with kids! It takes preparation, time and consistency but it’s well worth it. Modeling our love for our faith and gently removing obstacles to their encounter with our Lord is the best way to succeed at Mass with kids.
If you’d like to hear more about this topic, you can check out our latest podcast episode, Cheerios in the Pews, right here!
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