It’s no secret that kids (and adults!) can often struggle with the Sacrament of Confession.
There’s something so difficult about saying your sins out loud.
But at the same time, there’s something so beautiful and freeing about it, too! And this is what we want to teach our kids.
When you confess your sins to the priest, he has the power to absolve you (in persona Christi), and your sins are gone forever! And that’s a joy we want our kids to know and love.
So here are ten ways to prepare your kids to make a good confession – with hope and peace, and without fear!
Practice Making Good Apologies
Confession is the Sacrament of apologizing to God.
A good confession includes three requirements:
- Contrition (being sorry for your sins)
- Confession (saying sorry for your sins)
- Penance (making up for your sins)
When these three requirements are met, we are able to receive absolution (forgiveness) for our sins!
We all know that in a family, there are many times when we hurt each other and need to apologize and forgive each other.
In our home, a good apology is modeled after the Sacrament of Confession!
When my kids apologize to each other, I require three things of them:
Contrition: They need to show they are sincerely sorry for what they’ve done. Some of my kiddos need to be trained in making a sad or empathetic face, and in using a sincere and sorrowful voice. No haughty, insincere apologies allowed!
Confession: When my kids apologize to each other, they’re not allowed to simply say “I’m sorry.” They must say what they’ve done: “I’m sorry for hitting you” or “I’m sorry for ripping up your drawing.” Naming the offense is important, and helps prepare them for naming their sins in confession.
Penance: Even after the kids have apologized and forgiven each other, they still need to repair their relationships. Sometimes, it’s enough to promise they’ll never do that thing again. Other times, the kids ask, “What can I do to fix it?” and then listen and respond to each other’s requests. This helps the kids understand the purpose of doing penance after confession.
Confession is, after all, an apology to God for the sins we commit against him.
It’s the way we make the relationship right again, when we’ve harmed it by our actions.
And if we model the importance of sincere apologies in the home for our sins against each other, it will help prepare our children to make a good and sincere confession before God.
Teach Kids the Truth About Sin
Some parents are afraid to teach their kids about sin.
But, from the earliest ages, we teach our kids the difference between right and wrong. It’s not okay to hit your sister. It’s not okay to take a toy your brother was playing with.
Even before our kids hit the age of reason, we teach them what’s okay and not okay, in age appropriate ways.
It’s entirely appropriate to teach kids about sin, in age-appropriate ways.
Just like hitting hurts your sister, sin hurts God.
And just like you apologize to your sister after hitting her, you must apologize to God when you sin against him.
This can be done gently (no need to scare your young kids about going to hell for stealing a cookie!), but done truthfully and firmly. Just as we gently, but truthfully and firmly teach our kids not to hurt each other.
The best teaching tools I use to teach my kids about sin are the 10 Commandments and the 7 deadly sins (more on those in a minute).
Children of the age of reason need to know what sin is, in order to make a good confession.
Teach Kids the Truth About God’s Love
When we teach kids about sin, we should also teach them about God’s love.
Sin hurts God because he loves us so much, and he wants to live in a loving relationship with us. He desires what is best for us – which is why he gave us the 10 Commandments in the first place: to show us how to live in loving relationship with him.
Children should especially know that God loves them no matter what.
Even when they sin against him, he still loves them and wants to be friends with them.
Even if they do the worst sin they could possibly imagine, God will still love them.
When children know of God’s love, and of how much God desires to restore friendship with him, even when we sin against him, then confession can be presented as a joyful healing process, rather than as a punitive process.
Teach Kids the Truth About God’s Mercy
Because God loves us so much, he desires to share his great mercy with us.
God wants to forgive us! He wants us to run to him and return to his friendship! No sin is too big for his forgiveness!
The way I teach my kids about God’s mercy is with a little imaginative exercise.
I tell the children to hold out a hand, palm up. Then to begin thinking of their sins. Each sin is a grain of sand in the palm of their hand.
Sometimes we have just a handful of sins.
Sometimes, we have so many sins that we are carrying around a big heavy bucket of sand.
And we have a choice: We can either hold on to our sins, in our hand or in our heavy bucket….
Or we can throw them in the ocean of God’s mercy!
So I tell the kiddos: Now, imagine yourself walking up to the edge of the ocean with your handful of sins. The water is the ocean of God’s mercy.
Take that handful of sins, and throw it into the waves!
The sand gets washed away in the ocean and disappear. You could never find those grains of sand again. Your sins are gone forever.
And you are free of the burden and weight of them.
We do this imaginative exercise often as we prepare for confession. It helps the children understand how the Sacrament relieves the weight of the burden of their sins. And it makes them excited to throw their sins in the ocean of God’s mercy when they enter the confessional.
Make an Examination of Conscience Together
It’s important to teach our children to make a good examination of conscience.
The best way to do this is to do it with them.
In our family, some of us write our sins down when we make an examination of conscience, and some keep the sins in their memory until it’s time for confession.
As we prepare together, we sit down, and go through an examination of conscience out loud.
I will lead.
I start with a prayer to the Holy Spirit, asking him to reveal our sins to us.
Then I read the 10 Commandments out loud, one at a time. And I lead with little prompts like, “Think of whether you’ve fooled around during prayer time… Think of whether you’ve used bad words… Think of whether you’ve stolen candy from the closet…”
Knowing my kids, I can suggest sins and faults I know they routinely struggle with, without being accusative or embarrassing them by calling them out personally.
I also make sure to mention sins I know the children see me struggle with, such as losing your temper, or yelling at each other.
Each person will either write down their own sins, or hold them in their heart (we don’t share them out loud with each other).
Then, I go through the 7 deadly sins: pride, envy, anger, lust, greed, gluttony, and sloth.
Just as before, I give suggestions about some ways that we might participate in those sins, focusing on kid-friendly examples.
It’s really helpful to lead the kids in an examination of conscience, to help remind them of what sin is, and some of the more common sins they may struggle with.
Go to Confession as a Family
Modeling is an important part of many aspects of parenting.
And it’s important in the faith life, too!
When I go to confession, I bring my kids to the church with me – even the kids who are too young to receive the Sacrament.
Often, my littler children sit right outside the door of the confessional – close enough to me to be safe, but not in the confessional with me.
The baby though, often accompanies me into the confessional.
It can be difficult and distracting, but it’s important that our children see us going to this Sacrament regularly, and that we think it’s important – to help them know that even though it may be difficult and scary, we do this too.
And then when it’s time for my children to receive the Sacrament, they’re used to the routine of going to confession once or twice a month.
It makes it easier for them to have the routine, and to have the witness of their parents going to confession, too.
Encourage Your Kids to Get a Blessing
When it comes to alleviating some of the stress, fear, and anxiety of first Confession, this is probably the single MOST important and helpful thing I’ve done with my kids.
After I’m done with confession, I tell the priest, “Father, my little kids aren’t old enough to confess, but they’d like to come in and receive your blessing.”
If he is willing (I’ve never met a priest who refused), my littles enter the confessional and kneel behind the screen.
The priest then gives them a blessing, they say Amen, and they leave the confessional.
So, long before they need to enter the confessional and say their sins, they’re familiar with entering the confessional, kneeling down, and receiving a blessing.
It goes a long way towards helping relieve that “First Confession anxiety” that many kids experience.
Practice, Practice, Practice
The more your kiddos practice the form of confession, the more comfortable they’ll be when it’s time to go for real!
I practice personally with my kids, but I also made them this adorable paper doll First Penance set to help them practice on their own.
They can set up a pretend doll of themselves, plus a little paper doll priest they can name after their own pastor, and have the paper dolls walk through the rite of Confession.
This is a fun and lighthearted way to get in more practice before the big day!
Available in my Etsy shop: First Penance Paper Doll Lapbook
Do Calming Exercises
Even if you do all these steps, there’s a chance your children will still be nervous when it comes time for confession.
And can you blame them?! I still get nervous sometimes!
So make sure to prepare your kids for those feelings, and coach them through what to do when they arise.
Some of my suggestions are:
Take deep calming breaths. Smell the roses, and blow out the candles. Deep breaths can help calm the nerves!
Scrunch and Release. When you start to feel the tension in your fingers, your shoulders, and your face, scrunch up reaaaal tight! Then slowly release and shake out a little bit with a deep breath.
Remember the Ocean of Mercy. Close your eyes and imagine yourself throwing those sins into the ocean of God’s mercy. Just think about how much better you’ll feel without the weight of all those sins weighing you down!
You know your kiddos, so whatever calming routines are good for them, encourage them to do that.
Celebrate When It’s Done!
I have fond memories of going out for ice cream after monthly confession with my family.
Look for a way to make confession a positive family tradition! Of course, the forgiveness of sins is a reward in itself, but having another special tradition can make it easier for kid to get over some of the nervousness that goes along with it.
We usually do ice cream in the summer, and hot chocolate in the winter (with sprinkles of course!)
Let me know what you think about these ideas, and how you help your kids learn and love the Sacrament of Confession.
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