PARTICIPATING IN LENT WITH CHILDREN
The Lenten season is here! In the weeks preceding Lent I have grandiose ideas of all the great things I will implement in my home to participate in Lent with the littles in my life, and every year I am NEVER prepared and trudge through the season angry at myself for not doing a better job.
Well, NOT this year! Whatever I does not have to be perfect. I have compiled some plans I will rely on to help me as I move through the season with more purpose and involves my son, making it meaningful to him, at his level.
Before I continue, let me share this disclaimer: I am Catholic. I am a convert though, so I feel I may have some insight into how various Christian groups may participate in this season. I am no expert, and I will try to share insights that can serve both Catholics and non-Catholics.
WHAT IS LENT
The season of Lent is a 40 day period set aside as spiritual preparation for Easter. It models the 40 days Jesus spent in the desert, a pretty not fun time of fasting and self control.
Christians are also reminded of our mortality during Lent, and our need for Salvation to overcome that mortality. The two main things to remember is that it is a time of renewal and penance. We renew our baptismal promises (new Christians might also be baptized during this season) and we partake in special penances during the 40 days as well.
This season begins on Ash Wednesday. Priests and pastors will place ashes on participants’ foreheads. The ashes symbolize the dust from which God made us. As the priest/pastor applies the ashes to a person’s forehead, he speaks the words: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” This is to remind us of our mortality as we enter the Lenten season. Many people will fast on this day as well.
During the next few weeks, some Christians will participate in abstinence from meat every Friday. Friday was the Day Christ was crucified, so this is done in commiseration to that event as a penance and sacrifice to contribute to spiritual growth.
During this time, Christians may also “give up” or “add” new practices into their lives. They may give up a fav food or maybe social media. They may add more prayer time or Bible reading time into their day. The whole point is simply to prepare our hearts to celebrate Easter. It is not a season of celebration, rather a season of somber penance and true commitment to grow spiritually. Easter is the time to party!
INVOLVING THE LITTLES
This is a really hard topic for me to explain to my child. I also teach CCD to 5th and 6th graders, and it has been a challenge to make it easy to understand on their level. I have also found it challenging to find ways that involve kiddos that are not too over their head and that are meaningful. These ideas are probably mostly ideal for kiddos elementary and younger, but could also be used for middle school ages.
Explaining Lent to Littles: Moments like this make me soooo glad to have access to the internet! Short video clips are a great way to introduce such a topic as Lent. I rounded up a few here, but you can also just search for some that meet your needs. I also included a coloring book link that could be helpful for more visual support.
Giving Up/Adding Things: The practice of giving something up or adding something into your life as a spiritual practice is not so easy for the young ones. Let’s face it, kids don’t quite have the self control for suffering or the maturity for adding extra things into their lives, but that doesn’t mean they can’t try! I say start small, give them ideas, and then ultimately let them choose based on their ages and maturity levels. It doesn’t even have to be the same thing every day for 40 days. Let’s face it, a 4 year old is not likely to understand that process. Here are some ideas to inspire you and HERE is a print out you can use as a “choice board.” Kids can choose one item each day.
- Video, “Kids Talk About Lent”– This is a cute one! It’s all kid led, they explain why we give things up and what they will give up. This is a video with mostly 3th-5th graders with some great ideas for things to give up at that age.
- Ideas for younger littles: (all ages, really!)
- Before watching TV or any other screen time, your child can commit to praying before turning on the tech. A quick Hail Mary, maybe a decade of the rosary, or a family prayer your family loves,or even a spontaneous prayer appropriate for the struggles and challenges of the day. They sacrifice the time to spend with God, but still get to do the tech. This is a really good practice for the littles because they don’t have the maturity to totally give up some things. It is also a great time to pray together and model that spiritual practice.
- Kids love dessert! No doubt. We don’t have it every night, but when we do it is ice cream! We will try something new this year: instead of ice cream, choose some fruit. My child will still get something sweet that is dessert like, BUT he will have to sacrifice some of his wants. We will chat about why it is beneficial etc. It is not a punishment, but a sacrifice (“Mom win” too, because: it is healthier!)
- Serving others is also a great sacrifice. Kids can do this in little ways. Have them help make muffins or cookies for a neighbor. They can create a handwritten note and deliver them. My son enjoys this, but I think it is also because he likes to taste test the treats!
- This is also a valuable time to teach kids the importance of sharing resources, like their own money. If your child earns an allowance, maybe discuss donating a portion to a local church or charity. Even if it is only a few dollars, it teaches them about sacrificing for others. This is most beneficial when children deliver the money, no matter the amount, themselves. They truly feel grown up and part of the giving process.
- Another way to serve others is to ask your child to consider doing a chore for a sibling once a week (in addition to their own chore, of course). That will feel like a HUGE penance and sacrifice to some, but truly rather attainable. But let’s be real: they may need to build up to this sacrifice, maybe don’t present this option the first week!
Arts & Crafts: Children learn best by doing! I am not a crafty mom, so the “doing” part is hard for me. But, here are some go-to ideas that are not hard, even for moms like me! Pinterest also has a plethora of ideas. One thing I have done is make prayer jars, here was the Pinterest inspo. I like the prayer jar idea, because it creates a visual for them and they are fun to make! I even did this via zoom with my goddaughter and we had a great time.
Other Lenten Activities: Various ideas for various ages, but some of these are great for the whole family!
- As a family, go to Stations of the Cross at a local church
- Participate in Unplugging on Sunday and implementing a “No Tech” rule as a family and replace that time with family time
- Get this activity book for your older “littles”, or this one.
- Watch movies or videos that are faith based.
- Participate in Holy Week and make that time special. Check out these ideas!
I find it easy to participate in Lent for just me, but I know I need to do something to help my child understand it too. I will not participate in this Lenten season perfectly, this I know. I will use ideas that work in the time I have, and with the resources I have available to me at that moment. I will pray daily to model the reverence deserved during this season and make it an impactful time for my child too. I hope you are able to use one or two of these ideas to add into your Lenten season with your littles!