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How to survive a long Mass with little kids


Theresa Civantos Barber - published on 03/24/24

When my husband and I were worried about taking our young kids to a long, late Mass, here are a few things we did to make it a success.

Late in December, as my husband and I planned out our Christmas celebrations, we slowly came to an inescapable conclusion. 

We were going to have to brave Christmas Vigil Mass.

That might not sound like a big deal, but as the parents of lots of little kids, we had always avoided taking our kids to unusually long religious services that took place right around dinner time and bedtime. While we’ve heard of kids who just happily tag along for such things, our kids are not the type to handle being away from home while tired and hungry with any kind of grace.

But last year, for the first time ever, our oldest two children would be singing in the children’s choir at Christmas Vigil, which meant we also would have to bring the younger and considerably more squirrelly family members.

Ever the happy-go-lucky optimist, I figured it would all work out fine. But my practical husband was less confident, so he took a more direct approach and planned a few things to make it easier. 

His plans worked out so well! Afterward, he happily admitted that taking our kids to the long, late Mass went so much better than he expected.

I thought it might be helpful to some of you to know what he planned, especially as we enter Holy Week, which includes some of the longest religious services of the year. On top of that, many families might be bringing young relatives to church who may not be familiar with going to Mass.

Here are a few things we did to make for a successful long Mass with little kids.

Talk to your kids about what to expect

Especially if the child hasn’t been to church before, have a conversation beforehand about what it’s going to be like. You might walk them through what typically happens at Mass, or at Stations of the Cross, or whatever service you’re attending. 

For kids old enough to read, I highly recommend the Magnifikid booklets, which allow kids to follow along with the Mass and all the responses on their own. 

Another great resource especially for Holy Week is this wonderful list of 25 things for your kids to spot during Palm Sunday and Triduum

Before going into Mass, you can say something like, “Today is a special day, so let’s try to spot some special things at church. See if you can find the priest wearing red vestments, people holding palms, and a special Gospel reading with different people reading the characters,” offering these suggestions for the child to notice. 

Looking for these “special things” will hopefully keep them occupied for at least a little while (and it might also help to sit up front so they can pay attention more easily!).

Enlist back-up

These unusually long services are the ideal time to go to Mass with relatives or helpful friends. If you have grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, kindly neighbors, whoever, plan to go to Mass with them and sit together. 

I’ve often thought how amazing it would be if churches had a program that matched kindhearted empty-nester volunteers to help out young families with babies and toddlers during Mass. In lieu of that, if you don’t live near extended family, hopefully this week is a time of year when they’re visiting you (or you them) and they can accompany you for these long liturgies. 

With young kids, it just means so much to have another helper. At the Vigil Mass last Christmas, we asked my parents and siblings to join us, and their presence made it all much more doable and even enjoyable! 

Prepare for the details

Just a few logistical things to consider… Try to feed the little crew shortly before Mass so they aren’t hungry on top of everything else. Take them to the bathroom right before Mass too, so you don’t have to make the inevitable bathroom trip halfway through the homily. And pack a water bottle in your bag, so you have a quick solution if someone gets thirsty (offering water also works to quickly distract a loud child!).

Plan a special activity

I like to look for activities my young kids can do in Mass that are quiet and not distracting to others, yet also reinforce faith concepts so children can participate in their own way. 

When my husband was worried about Christmas Vigil Mass, he brought along a set of LCD drawing tablets for my younger children to each have one. He felt these were a life hack to make the long Mass a success. They are quiet and non-messy, and we ask our kids to draw things they see in the church.

Drawing what they see at Mass keeps them amazingly engaged and present. It’s been really beautiful to see the simple little drawings they make of the manger scene, or the altar and candles, or the tabernacle, showing a remarkable attention to detail even though their little hands can’t make anything very complex.

Other quiet and faith-building activities include Catholic seek-and-find books for children to look through (we like this one and this one), and in a pinch, stickers and water paint books have never failed me.

Take a deep breath and know you’re doing amazing

I love hanging out with my grandma, who raised six kids, because she regularly affirms how hard it is to be in the parenting trenches. She’ll watch me wrangling my crew and laughingly joke, “My goodness, raising young kids is not easy! Too bad you can’t send them all to boarding school!”

You really are in such a hard stage when all your kids are little. Don’t get discouraged if your kids are rambunctious and rowdy. You are doing such a great job just taking them to Mass. Your sweet family is the future of the Church, and you deserve a big thank you for all the work you are doing to bring them!

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