Planning ahead Picking a Mass Generally speaking, if you have young children, a morning Mass is better than an evening Mass. Tired kids are not much fun for parents. Many parishes have a specific Mass for families where the atmosphere is more child-tolerant and family-friendly. If you can, make it your regular Mass. You’ll also have the company and support of other parents and your kids will make friends to play with after Mass. Children’s Liturgy This is a separate program for children which runs in a separate room while adults listen to the readings during Mass. There was some mixed feedback on the benefits of Children’s Liturgies. For some parents, it is a God-send and has been wonderful for their children’s faith and for their sanity. Others feel that it is unnecessary and it undermines the children’s appreciation for the Mass. Ideally a Children’s Liturgy… Is more than just a baby-sitting service. Focuses on breaking open the Liturgy of the Word (particularly the Gospel) in language that is accessible to young children. Includes simple activities to reinforce and illustrate the message. Returns the children to their parents after the homily to participate in the Liturgy of the Eucharist together. Before you head out of the door… Food The idea of bringing food to Mass is not one that all parents recommend for all children. However, here are a few things to consider: Infants and toddlers (0-3 years) cannot be expected to regulate their physical needs. If they are hungry, do not hesitate to breastfeed your babies. For toddlers, avoid noisy packaging or foods that make a mess. If crumbs end up on the floor, be sure to tidy up after Mass. Older kids can be directed to offer their hunger up. They can also begin to do the one hour fast before Mass too. Toddler Distraction Devices Many survey respondents championed the value of some age-appropriate toys and books for toddlers and young children to use during Mass. Children are naturally curious and active, so some quiet distractions are enormously helpful. We’ve put together a list of things that could go into a special ‘Mass Bag’ (see page 19) for your little ones to take. There were quite a few recommendations that this Mass Bag be set aside and only brought out for Mass time. It was one way to get the little kids to look forward to going and emphasises that this was a special time that was set aside from everyday life. However, if your child wants to read their bible during the week, don’t hesitate to let them! You can always have two, one for home and one for Mass! Mass Bag Essentials Soft, noiseless toys. Stuffed animals are great. Why not pick something symbolic like a lamb (Jesus), a lion (St Mark), or an eagle (St John). Some age-appropriate, faith books to read. A children’s bible, or picture books for little ones. Older ones can be given a children’s Missal so that they can follow the Mass. Some colouring-in or word puzzles to do. These should preferably be faith related. If all you have is blank paper, ask your kids to draw something to give to the priest after Mass. If you’re desperate, never underestimate the power of those gift envelopes and little pencils that live in the pews! (Your donation will have extra love and appreciation). Nature’s Call Don’t be concerned about taking a toilet-training toddler or sick child to the bathroom on demand. Even if it is at a critical moment in Mass! Feel free to change baby’s nappies as they fill up. Stinky nappies are not only uncomfortable for your little one, but everyone else too! “My daughter made a get well card for our sick parish priest with her and him drawn on the front, skipping and holding hands. He LOVED it!” – A. S. Parish Tip: Make sure you have change facilities available and accessible in the bathrooms! When you arrive… Scoping out your position Some people recommend sitting up the front with kids so they can see the action at the altar. However, you may have to make a quick exit with a fussing child, so choose a position with an easy and relatively discreet escape. Make use of side altars if your Church has any. It gives your kids something interesting to look at and has a little bit of clearly marked space for wiggly toddlers to roam a little or to park a sleeping baby in a pram. If you know you’re all having a bad day, feel free to hide up the back too! Cry Rooms: A love-hate relationship This was a touchy issue for lots of our respondents and in the Catholic blogosphere too. Some hate them with a passion and others see it as a sanity-saving retreat for those really bad days. Here are some guidelines for both parents and parishes to make Cry Rooms an effective tool for parents and kids having a bad day. Parent Tips: Only use Cry Rooms when your child is distressed, agitated or restless. Once they are settled, come back and join the congregation. Be clear with your child that this is not a place to let loose and run wild. It should not be ‘fun’ or ‘rewarding’ to go to the Cry Room. Don’t make the Cry Room your regular spot. You and your children belong in the congregation, so don’t segregate yourselves in there unless necessary. Other harried parents will be there trying to settle their child and participate in Mass. The cry room is not a place to have a conversation so be respectful and mindful of other parents who may be praying. Parish Tips: For the love of God, do NOT call it a ‘Cry Room’. Call it a Parent’s Respite/Retreat instead. Change the name, change the attitude. Make sure the room is connected to Mass. Make sure Mass is clearly visible and that the sound system is connected. Put pews and kneelers to make it consistent with the rest of the Church and facilitate parent participation. Post a friendly ‘Parent Code of Conduct’ or ‘How to use this room’ on the door and around the room so that everyone is on the same page on its purpose and usage. Make it clear to your parish community that the Cry Room/Parent’s Respite is a measure of last resort for parents. Parents and their children belong in the congregation and should not be made to feel segregated in there. After Mass… Give yourselves a high-five! You made it! End it with a treat! If your parish doesn’t have after mass refreshments, go and get a special treat as a family like ice-cream, a play in the park, or family meal. Remember: No matter how wild your kids may be, there is light at the end of the tunnel! Thoughts on Treats Some parents connect this treat with their child’s behaviour at Mass. The denial of the treat serves as a natural consequence in their discipline process. This should be carefully thought through considering your parenting style and the message you want to instil in your child. Connecting good behaviour in Mass with a post-Mass treat can be internalised by your child as ‘God only loves me when I behave well’. Parents need to always be mindful of how their children perceive their discipline strategies to ensure that what you’re trying to communicate is the message that comes through.