Friday, July 31, 2009

Surviving Mass with a Toddler

Mass used to be easier.

In the beginning Sadie slept through Mass. Occasionally she would wake and want to nurse and I would fumble with the nursing cover until she was happily slurping away. When she got older, but was very definitely still a baby, she would sit on my lap and watch everything that was going on around her with wide eyes. Then something happened. Our chubby, quiet baby transformed into a squirming, wriggly toddler. She wants to talk, laugh, climb, chew (on the pews), and run. Sitting on Daddy or Mommy’s lap for an extended period of time is no longer on her list of favorite things to do. I had hoped that since we were going every single Sunday since she was eight days old, she would just learn to be quiet and it would all happen naturally. I was very naive.

Now we're trying to survive the hour as gracefully as possible (i.e. without any screaming, loud noises that disturb everyone else). I have learned a few things so far (I’m sure I’ll be able to add to this list in the future as what works and what doesn’t work seems to shift each day) about surviving Mass with a toddler. Here’s what we’re trying.

Church Shoes-
The Tactic: I read about this idea on a few different websites and thought that we would give it a try with Sadie. The idea is that you have special dress shoes that your child only wears on special occasions. Because the shoes are only for special occasions, the child learns that they need to be on their best behavior when the shoes are on their feet.

How it Has Worked: I think that Sadie is still little to really understand that it’s serious time when the shoes are on her feet. But I think it’s a good habit to get into and I think it could work later on. So far Sadie spends a good portion of Mass working on getting her Church Shoes off of her little feet. At least it keeps her busy for a while!

Religious Books-
The Tactic: Okay, this one’s pretty clear. I don’t really want to bring a bunch of toys into Mass so that Sadie can play, because I think that she needs to learn early on that it’s a very important time and that something very important is going on. So we limit what we bring to a couple of her religious board books (usually We Go to Mass and either her Mary book or her Guardian Angels book) and a couple other appropriate toys (see next section).

How it Has Worked: Sadie loves her Board Books. We went to Mass this morning and she spent a solid ten minutes sitting on my lap turning the pages of her We Go to Mass Book. She would close it and reopen it and go through the entire thing over and over again. Then she went through it pointing out the priest on every single page. It doesn’t keep her busy for the entire Mass, but it definitely can keep her occupied for a while, and the pictures in the book show match what’s going on in the Church.

Rosary and Veil-
The Tactic: Another straight forward idea for keeping little hands busy at Mass. We bring her rosary, along with the board books and veil and keep them in her bag (she usually wears a hat during Mass, or at least for part of it).

How it Has Worked: When she starts to get fussy I pull them out, one at a time (sometimes I take the books out before Mass and put them next to the hymnals so that she grabs at them instead of the hymnals and missals) and hand them to her. When she was smaller the rosary would keep her busy for quite a long time. These days she’s more taken with her veil. She can almost put it on by herself or she wraps it around her shoulders like a little shawl.

Having Daddy Hold Her-
The Tactic: Paul holds her. I like this tactic the best. Now that he’s holding her more often I actually get to experience a bit more, instead of being on the verge of pulling my hair out the entire time!

How it Has Worked: She doesn’t struggle with him as much as she does with me. It doesn’t usually work for the entire time, but she does tend to sit more quietly when she’s with him. Today I also put her down on the pew next to me. She thought that this was hilariously funny and sat still, with a huge smile on her face, for about two minutes (that’s a long time to sit still when your thirteen months old)… then she started to squeal and tried to climb over the back of the pew to visit with one of our friends who was about five rows back, on the opposite side of the church.

What We Haven’t Tried-
We don’t bring snacks or drinks to Mass. It’s only an hour and I don’t want her to get into the habit of needing, or expecting snacks. Sometimes she does bring a doll (if she’s holding it when we leave the house and then carries it in), but other than that we try to limit toys, because it’s not play-time.

If anyone else has any suggestions of things that have worked for their families or friends, we’re definitely open to new ideas. What works seems to change on a daily basis!


  1. Being a convert somewhat later in life, I haven't had to struggle with a wriggly toddler at mass, but I realy admire your creative and imaginative will get easier as she gets older, I'm sure! I agree too about not having food and limiting toys, as Mass is a sacred time.
    God bless,
    Mrs.P xx

  2. I have to respectfully disagree regarding snacks. I am pretty rigid when it comes to schedule. My children's normal schedule for snack is during Mass time. I feel it is unfair of me to expect that they can sit still and hungery for that time. A few cheerios or raisins do not make my child irreverent. One suggestion for a small toy is an Eye spy bag. They are a quiet toy. I made them myself for my DD. You could fill them with religous materials. It is a good 'toy' but also works on fine motor skils and is best of all QUIET!

    God Bless,

  3. Hi Missa!

    We aren't quite well behaved enough to not throw our food (we're still in that stage). I'd say if it works for you personally, go for it! I definitely wouldn't judge a parent who's child has food. It's just not something we're going to try (helps that our Mass isn't at snack time though!). Whatever makes it easier for the little ones to get through. Our Mass is early, right after breakfast for Sadie, but I think she thinks she should eat in it because I used to nurse her during Mass (under a cover) to keep her quiet.

    Thanks you for the suggestion on the bag. I'll definitely check it out!


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