Many children who are making their First Communion this coming spring make their First Reconciliation during this season of Advent. In addition, it is a great time for whole families to attend the Sacrament of Reconciliation together, whether that be at a regularly scheduled time or at a parish penance service. There is no better way to encourage your children to take advantage of the Sacrament of Reconciliation than for them to see you taking advantage of it.
Make Going to Confession Part of Your Routine
I know – going to confession can feel scary. It’s hard to admit our faults and failings. I try to go to confession once a month. Even with that regular routine, I still get nervous waiting in line. There is still part of me that wants to run away. After, however, I’m always glad that I stayed and went through with the sacrament.
Frequent confession not only forgives your sin, it gives you grace to help you work on your faults and to be a better person. I can always feel it when I have been away from the Sacrament of Reconciliation for too long. I encourage you to schedule going to confession. Put it on your calendar. Take everyone in the family who is old enough to receive the sacrament. If you don’t want to go to your parish priest, check out the scheduled times at a neighboring parish. Wherever you go, make it part of your regularly scheduled life. You’ll be glad that you did.
Whether it is their first or their twentieth time going to confession, you can help your children prepare for this important encounter with God. One step is to help them be aware of where they have failed (sinned) in their relationship with God and others. On the USCCB website, Fr. Thomas Weinandy offers the following examination of conscience for use with children:
Examination of Conscience
Responsibilities to God:
Have I prayed every day?
Have I prayed my morning prayers and night prayers?
Have I prayed with my parents and family?
Have I been moody and rebellious about praying and going to church on Sunday?
Have I asked the Holy Spirit to help me whenever I have been tempted to sin?
Have I asked the Holy Spirit to help me do what is right?
Responsibilities to others:
Have I been obedient and respectful to my parents?
Have I lied or been deceitful to them or to others?
Have I been arrogant, stubborn or rebellious?
Have I talked back to parents, teachers or other adults?
Have I pouted and been moody?
Have I been selfish toward my parents, brothers, and sisters,
teachers, or my friends and schoolmates?
Have I gotten angry at them? Have I hit anyone?
Have I held grudges or not forgiven others?
Have I treated other children with respect or have I made fun of them and called them names?
Have I used bad language?
Have I stolen anything? Have I returned it?
Have I performed my responsibilities, such as homework and household chores?
Have I been helpful and affectionate toward my family?
Have I been kind and generous with my friends?
On a nightly basis, it is a wonderful idea to do a daily examen with your children as a part of their evening prayers. Ask them what went well in their day, what they want to thank God for, and what they need to tell God they are sorry for. Reciting an act of contrition daily is a good habit to get into for both children and adults.
Role-Play the Sacrament
For children who are new to the Sacrament, you can role-play with them so that they know what to expect – whether it will be behind a grille or a face-to-face experience, what the priest might say, what they should say, and what it means to be given a penance. Going to confession for the first time can be scary. It isn’t like going to Communion, an event they see everyone take part in at Mass. Confession is usually behind closed doors and something of a mystery. Anything you can do to alleviate that fear is a good thing. Emphasize that the priest can’t ever tell what he hears in confession.
If you have a child with intellectual disabilities or special needs, I encourage you to read this article on preparing your special needs child for the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
Model Reconciliation and Forgiveness in Your Own Families
Another step you can take is to model reconciliation in your own families. We perhaps sin against the members of our family more than anyone else. It is hard to love the people we see day in and day out. Siblings and spouses can get on each other’s nerves. Parents and children can antagonize each other. What does it look like to say you are sorry (and mean it!) and then to try to make up for the wrongdoing? If parents can admit when they are wrong and offer heartfelt apologies, that will go a long way toward showing children how to seek and offer forgiveness.
Answer Questions Honestly
Your children may have questions about the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Answer the questions honestly on an age-appropriate level. If you don’t know the answers, tell your child you will find out. You can ask your parish priest or director of religious education for help.
With your help and example, your child can learn to love the Sacrament of Reconciliation and incorporate it into their lives as a way of growing in their relationship of God.