Getting Kids to Listen in Mass

The Holy Family - Painting at Mission Santa ClaraHow do you get children to not just be quiet during Mass, but also to pay attention and listen? For infants and toddlers, that’s just not always possible, hence the ubiquitous “cry room”. For preschoolers there are often childcare provisions mixed with age appropriate religious education. But what about kids who are a little older, visiting and out of their regular routine or not in some sort of CCD class during Mass?

Catholic parents have a lot of tricks up their sleeves, some better than others. I’m not a fan of food in Mass and when parent utilize electronic devices it tends to go from bad to worse. One year at St. Mary’s in Los Gatos, we saw a boy about to receive his First Holy Communion play with a video game all through Mass. When it was time for him to walk up the aisle, his mother took it away. You think that maybe those parents were a little too lax? Yeah, me too….

What worked for us was a combination approach:

  • talking with children about being “in God’s house”
  • providing tasteful kids’ religious books
  • sitting near the music group or up front (where “more things were happening” for the kids to see and hear)
  • sitting near church art
  • occasionally whispering to them what was happening in Mass so the kids got a sense of the order and meaning

In general, the combo approach worked pretty well for us, but of course we have stories.  When our daughter was about 3 or 4, we were in church, sitting near both the music group and the church wall (with the stations of the cross, stained glass, and more).  It was a quiet interlude in Mass when suddenly our little girl burst out loudly with “when Jesus died it was REALLY bloody – there was blood ALL OVER!”  We could hear the people behind us snickering, as you might imagine.  But at least she was processing some religious education rather than flipping through a secular cartoon magazine.

Granddad’s approach: My grandfather had a good idea that stuck with me (and influenced my life strongly).  Sometimes, my mother’s parent would take my siblings and me to Mass and then brunch while letting our parents get away for the weekend to Carmel.  When I was maybe in first or second grade, I remember the drive between Mass and brunch and my granddad turning to us kids and asking the pop quiz question of the century. He said “so what did you think of the homily?” (It may have been “sermon” but same idea.) I had nothing – I drew a big blank. And boy did that feel awful.

The next time around, though, I was ready.  Since I thought he’d ask, I was listening carefully to the sermon and I had a response.  I don’t remember all that I said, but I did state that some of the priest’s comments were good but I thought he was wrong about something or other.  My grandfather laughed heartily, shook his head with a big grin and we drove on to breakfast.  I took it that he liked my answer, and I have been listening ever since. (And for those who say I’m outspoken, maybe this is why, too.) Bottom line: my grandfather asked me what I thought, which encouraged me to pay attention at a really young age. So naturally this is something I tried to do with my kids also.

What about you? How do you get your children to not just behave, but really pay attention in Mass?

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4 Responses to Getting Kids to Listen in Mass

  1. MelanieB says:

    One thing we do with our kids is talk about the Mass during the week. We have several picture books about the Mass and we read them and talk about the various prayers and parts of the Mass. We help them learn the responses, etc. And I try (but don’t always succeed) to read the Mass reading to them ahead of time and discuss them a bit too. Magnifikids is great for this because it has the weekly readings as well as the order of the Mass. I can read it ahead of time to the little ones. Older kids who can read can follow along for themselves during Mass.

    I also whisper in their ears during the Mass to let them know what’s going on.

  2. Mary Pope-Handy says:

    Melanie those sound like great ideas. I hadn’t heard of Magnifikids before but am sure that readers here will appreciate that tip! Thank you so much for stopping by and sharing your tips!

  3. MelanieB says:

    Our former parish got a subscription to Magnifikids and handed them out at the door at the family Mass. They found that adults who didn’t have kids were taking them too because they are easier to follow than flipping through the missalette. We don’t have a current subscription but we have a bunch of old ones floating about the house and every once in a while our 4 year-old wants to read it as a bedtime story. So we read through the order of the Mass and she loves it.

  4. Mary Pope-Handy says:

    That is so neat! What a great tool to use with your kids!

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