As a Director of Children's Ministry I am often asked for tips on how to successfully take little ones to Mass. Below is my quick list compiled from my own experience of raising 4 children to adulthood, my current role as grandmother, observation of others and articles I have read.
In my list I frequently use the word "ritual". Preschoolers thrive on rituals and find security in knowing what to expect. You'll find if you set up a "Mass preparation" ritual as well as a ritual during Mass, you'll have fewer chaos moments. Notice I said fewer; messiness and chaos can erupt even with the best laid plans. (My worst experience was when Evelyn Joy was about 4 and threw up all over the pew in front of us...thankfully the people in that pew were kneeling so it did not get on them :)
QUICK LIST FOR PRESCHOOLERS
1. As a parent have a "get to go" attitude about Mass instead of a "have to go" attitude. Your little ones pick up on your attitude and your actions so this is a foundational element for being successful in bringing children to Mass.
2. Have clothes that the children know are "Mass" clothes. Special shoes and clothes that are worn primarily for Mass. You can even connect the ritual of putting on special clothes and naming them "Mass" clothes with the special clothes the Priest and Deacons wear during Mass.
3. Pack a "Mass bag" for preschoolers. Key elements of a mass bag would be children's religious books, puzzle books, some religious coloring books, and a few colors. What is in this bag is only brought out during Mass so your child can look forward to getting use the items during Mass. See the MASS BAG LINKS below for items you could purchase or find for your bag.
4. Attempt to get to church at least 10 minutes early in order to take children to bathroom before going into the pew. This is probably the hardest to accomplish when you have more than one little one to get ready as well as yourself!
5. Sit up front so the children can see what is going on during the Mass.
6. Participate in the Mass by singing, speaking the responses, listening and participating in Mass ritual. Preschoolers will mimic what you do.
7. Reverenty and quietly point out different parts of the Mass to your children, especially during the Eucharistic Prayer when Transubstantiation takes place.
8. If your child is fussy, carry them to the back. Often just the movement out of the pew is enough to quiet them. If possible, stand in the back of the church and walk around holding them. That way you continue to be present in Mass and they are part of it as well.
QUICK LIST FOR ELEMENTARY STUDENTS:
1. Reference #1, 2, 4 & 6 of the Preschool Quick List. They apply to Elementary Students as well.
2. Help your elementary child put together a "Mass Bag" for themselves. Have them put their name on the bag and even draw appropriate pictures or decorations on it. This mass bag should have a pencil and a notebook or journal to take notes and draw pictures of what they are hearing or seeing during the homily. I would also suggest you purchase a subscription to Magnifikids in your child's name. Every month they get a set of Magnifikids in the mail that they can put in their mass bag. (Elementary students LOVE to get mail!) They can then take their Magnifikids out each Sunday and use them to help them participate in the mass (http://us.magnificat.net/home/magnifikid)
3. Assist your child in using the Missalette or Magnifikids in order to follow the ritual and being fully engaged in the mass.
4. Have a family meal at least once a week at your home. Turn off the TV and all electronic devices. This includes mom and dad leaving their cell phones on silent and not looking at them during the dinner. You may ask what does this have to do with "taking children to mass"? The Catholic Mass is a time when the community gathers around the table of the Lord. Every mass has an Introductory Rite, Liturgy of the Word, Liturgy of the Eucharist and a Concluding Rite. A family meal should include a time to gather and say a blessing, share stories of the day or remember family stories all while we are eating together. Our family would often read the Bible Readings for the day or the Sunday readings and have a discussion about them, especially as the children moved into older elementary years. Julie Dienno-Demarest shares another process called "the Rose" that is helpful for story telling around the table in her blog http://www.diennodemarest.com/2014/10/06/the-rose/. The most important part of this is that your children are learning the disciplines of connecting and being engaged with adults as well as with people their own age. They experience community around the dinner table which helps them grasp the significance of community around the table of the Lord.