These forty days can feel like an awfully long time for children. As parents, we have a responsibility to help our families faithfully observe Lent. Though it can seem difficult at times, the season of Lent provides an especially meaningful time to instruct children.
As we enter into this time of penance, don’t underestimate your children! While their offerings should be age appropriate, they can still make real sacrifices. If you’re helping your children to choose what they should do this Lent, here are a few options to consider.
Yes, it is recommended that we Catholics “give something up” for Lent. But is there something we can add, as well?
A great family tradition is a Day of Reconciliation and prayer. Make a weekly trip to your parish during the time for confession. Kids can bring spiritual reading or a Bible, their Rosary, or a prayer journal. Encourage them to take advantage of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. This weekly prayer time can provide many opportunities for your family to grow closer together, or to learn about devotions like the Stations of the Cross, the Divine Mercy Chaplet, and more.
Children can’t physically deny themselves in the same way as adults, but you can still urge them to make a real sacrifice. Children are usually eager to respond to a noble challenge.
Can they commit to giving up all drinks but water and milk? Can they give up cookies or candy? Discuss with your child what they are most attached to, and suggest they make a sacrifice where it means the most to them. Limiting screen time or forgoing it altogether is a beautiful and worthy penance.
You can accompany your children by spending more time with them—reading, going for walks, cooking meals together. And in all things, demonstrate mercy. If your child is struggling to maintain their penance, don’t scold them. Ask them why they are having difficulty and discuss whether they need to revise their Lenten plan.
The Church invites us to give alms, whether they be our “time, talent, or treasure.” Help your children brainstorm how they can give of their own resources. Maybe they can volunteer to shovel snow for a neighbor, or write letters to an elderly relative, or spend their own money to have a Mass said for a special intention. Very small children can choose a toy or book to donate to those in need.
For children, almsgiving can be a very tangible way for them to grow spiritually. It teaches children to put their faith into action and directs their concerns to others.
Journeying toward Easter
As your family progresses through Lent, strive to keep your eyes on Christ. The better we prepare, the richer our celebration of the Resurrection will be. Whether we increase our prayer, undertake penance, or give alms, the purpose is to shed ourselves of sin and unite ourselves to Jesus. We are never to young to begin this process.
For a wonderful meditation on mercy that mirrors the self-sacrifice of Jesus, read St. Conrad and the Wildfire, a new children’s book by Maura Roan McKeegan.
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In St. Conrad and the Wildfire, children of all ages will discover the power of truth and forgiveness. Introduce children to St. Conrad through Maura Roan McKeegan’s moving retelling and Patty Borgman’s magnificent illustrations that bring the saint to life.