At first, it seemed so easy to go to Mass with a child. We’d go to Mass, infant Clare would nurse or sleep. We had it down! Then she got mobile. From ages one to three, the only somewhat effective solution we could find was keeping her restrained in a stroller at the end of a pew. But that didn’t really help her to learn about Mass, and certainly not to love the sacraments or God. It was just survival.
And we had our second child, Dominic, when she was two and a half! I could just see it – a future parade of strollers restraining our children so we could make it through Mass. Something had to change. The strollers had to stop blocking the aisles.
We KNEW our kids had a baptismal right (if not a responsibility until the age of reason) to be at Mass.
We KNEW that we wanted our kids to love and understand the Mass and to love Jesus. Not just be quiet and zone out during Mass.
We KNEW that our kids were still getting something out of Mass, even if it was just grace from being in the presence of our Lord. And we needed to go to Mass.
We KNEW that we were “those people.” And all of it needed to change.
Over time, we learned and started implementing a few basic strategies. Note – none of them are for at Mass; what happens before Mass is 90% of the battle. At Mass we allow minimal child accessories like a quiet fidget toy and/or Mass book and we just focus on Mass. After Mass, good behavior is rewarded with a doughnut and we try to talk about how Mass applies to our lives, not critique what we didn’t like about Mass, but how we are refreshed, charged, and how the readings and homily struck us. Most positive engagement and good behavior at Mass comes from what we do BEFORE Mass.
Hopefully, these strategies can help you too!
Practice at home. Practice SITTING STILL without personalized entertainment or engagement. How rarely do our children (ahem, how rarely do we) do this? If sitting still like being at Mass is only a timeout punishment at home, will Mass not seem like a giant time out? We started the transition with a few minutes of sitting still at the table, followed by a reward. Wash, rinse, repeat, extend the time. Pray at home. Read the Bible at home. Do the things we do at Mass at home. You get the idea.
Focus on the WHY of Mass. Mass is AWESOME. We get the privilege of going to Mass! It’s not an “obligation” (or at least we shouldn’t think of it as such). Our Lord and Savior loves us so much He not only died for us, but He knew how much we needed Him constantly in our lives and created the Mass and the Church to nourish us and connect with us! Talk with our children about this! Be excited about Mass! But also be honest – sometimes we don’t want to go to Mass either. But we go because we love Jesus and He loves us, even when we’re feeling lazy.
Prepare for Mass. Get out the door early enough (yeah, I know, mission impossible). Have a last-minute kid snack and drink BEFORE leaving the house, or right before getting there. Kids don’t need to fast before Mass if they aren’t yet receiving the Eucharist! And they generally get cranky and act up when hungry – prevent the issues and avoid snacks at Mass by making sure little bellies are happy before. Likewise, make sure bladders are empty. Get to church in time for last bathroom/diaper change breaks. Get into the church in time to say hi to Jesus with a kid-friendly conversational prayer and to acclimate (but not so early to get super distracted – we aim for 5 minutes before Mass). And actually, prepare for the CONTENT of Mass.
This last one is where God turned our lives upside down. Preparing for the content of Mass – specifically, the readings for the Mass. We knew we were supposed to read the readings and prepare prayerfully for Mass. But did that happen when we were childless, let alone now that there were little distraction machines in the picture?
We found if we did a craft or activity based on the readings, interest and understanding skyrocketed and consequently, engagement and behavior at Mass improved. I later found out that 90% of learning for kids under age 7 is kinetic – so duh, this works. But it was REALLY rare we actually found the time to come up with a craft (aka, search the internet), get the supplies, and then actually do the craft with our kids!
So God planted the seed of an idea. If we needed help with this, other families probably did too.
At the time, I was a full-time Discovery network pseudo-educational reality TV producer.
So naturally, it meant we needed to develop a webisode craft show like Crafty Carol, but for a craft for every Mass!
Oh…and wouldn’t it be great if we did all the craft prep so families could just watch a webisode, get their kids inspired, and then pull out a box and have everything ready to go for the craft? Oh yeah, like a subscription box service, like all the awesome but secular craft and kids boxes out there right now?