It's important you start bringing your child to Mass each time you go as soon as possible. For most infants, this means within the first few weeks of life. Obviously, there are extenuating circumstances (premature infants or those with health problems who can't risk public exposure, etc.), but especially once your child is baptized you should really try to get him/her to Mass each week. This might seem difficult and stressful but with some simple tips, you should be able to make it easier on your family.
- Take your child's schedule into consideration. Attend Mass at a time when he/she is most likely to be already rested and fed. This is tougher with an infant, but will become more doable over time. It's also harder with several children on different schedules, but do your best. Flexibility is a huge part of being a parent and Mass attendance requires this flexibility.
- Once your child begins potty training, hit the bathrooms before you leave the house and as you enter the church. This will establish the habit that we don't leave the sanctuary during Mass (if at all possible).
- Sit up front. I know this is stressful for some folks and we know Catholics don't like the front pew, but this will be helpful for many reasons. As your child grows, he/she will want to see what's going on. Sometimes, I think children fuss because they cannot see or experience what is happening. Sitting in the first 5 pews or so allows your child to be close to the action. Feel free to sit near an aisle so you can escape quickly, if need be.
- Use cry rooms sparingly, if at all. Cry rooms are great and have their place. You never know when a child is going to start screaming uncontrollably and need a quiet place to regroup. Don't make the cry room a habit because then your child will have a much tougher time sitting through Mass as he/she grows. Go to the cry room when you cannot quickly/easily quiet your child. Return to Mass as soon as your child is ready.
- Narrate the Mass. At some point (I am guessing between the ages of 1-2), most parents start narrating things to teach their child and increase vocabulary. "We are walking past the blue house." "Mom is making chicken for supper." We need to make this a part of Mass with our infant and toddler children. "We are hearing the First Reading." "Father Bill is giving the homily." "Mom and Dad are receiving Jesus in the Eucharist." Your child is likely to be less fussy and antsy if he/she knows what's going on as he/she grows. Plus, quiet whispering in the ear should keep them feeling engaged even if they don't understand what's happening. When you enter church, walk around, point things out, and teach them.
- Participate. Your child will struggle to learn the prayers, responses, and songs if you never say them. Instead of singing/saying them aloud, whisper them to your child if you're holding him/her. I am confident children struggle to learn prayers because when we say them all together, they cannot discern the different words. If you whisper the prayers to them, they will focus more on your voice and begin learning the individual words. Case in point: until I was old enough to read, I was sure the words to the hymn "Glory and Praise to Our God" sang about "and alone gives thy do-or-days." This never made sense until I was old enough to use a hymnal and learned it was "and alone gives light to our days."
- Pack light. Stick to one blanket or cuddly toy and a bottle (or breast-feeding cover). For infants, I recommend the doll be the Baptism Bear or the Loving Jesus Doll rather than just their normal teddy. For a toddler, consider finding their patron saint from Soft Saints. The more you pack when your child is young, the more they will expect snacks, toys, and distractions as they grow. Plus, having this special toy just for church will make it a relaxing, pleasant time. Of course, bring the diaper bag if you're expecting to have to change the little one and don't forget spit up rags and other essentials. Just leave out the rattles, books, and other things.