In the Catholic church, Ash Wednesday kicks off the penitential season of Lent. In 2016, it’s Feb. 10. During Lent, Orthodox and Catholic Christians fast, pray and give alms to the needy, to prepare for Christ’s resurrection on Easter Sunday. Whether you’re Catholic or not, there’s a lot to be learned from these disciplines, especially for children. Here are tips to teach children about a Lenten fast and sacrifice. Use these FAQs to teach kids to fast and to help non-Catholic children understand what their Catholic classmates are doing and why.
What is a Lenten fast?
A common question around the Lenten season is “what are you giving up for Lent?” Catholic fasting is about much more than what you’re giving up for Lent. During a Lenten fast, people sacrifice, give up or abstain from foods, vices, activities or habits. Sometimes people abstain from negative, unhealthy practices (anger, swearing) Other times, they just fast from treats (candy). Parents, encourage children to choose two fasts: physical and spiritual. Physical fasts involve the body (fasting from sweets or meat). Spiritual sacrifice involves breaking hurtful interpersonal habits: bad attitude, angry outbursts, fighting, negativity or rudeness.
Is it just about giving up for Lent?
No and that’s a good question. The goal in a Lenten fast is to quit bad habits and replace with healthier options. People try to stop relying on things and start relying more on God. For example, your Lenten fast may mean you sacrifice meat and eat healthier fish, vegetables and alternative protein sources. As a family, you may give up watching television and start doing more active things together. Try fasting from video games in lieu of reading, writing or praying. Kids may fast from Facebook or cellphone to spend more time in face-to-face interaction. Maybe you replace driving with walking or trade recycling for throwing stuff away.
Who should fast?
The Catholic Church says that everyone can benefit from fasting, even little children. However, certain groups should avoid extreme fasts (going all day without eating). These groups are children under 14, seniors, ill people, those with certain medical conditions, pregnant or nursing mothers. No one should fast from necessities like water or sleep.
Why does a Catholic Christian fast?
Fasting from certain luxuries occasionally, even if it’s not for religious reasons, breaks dependence on things and teaches appreciation for them. Fasting from non-essentials helps people concentrate on essentials and teaches empathy for those who have less. Avoiding certain unhealthy foods has physical benefits. Avoiding hurtful interpersonal habits improves relationships. Many parents are already training their kids to do these things; Lent provides a good practice opportunity. Lent can be a great time for adults to work on problems like smoking, drinking, weight loss, gambling, overspending or excessive Internet use.
How do you fast?
First, look at what things you’re struggling with. Are you spending too much money? Then give up shopping online. Maybe you’re getting to bed too late, so abstain from watching TV at night. Everyone should choose his own fast, but parents can children give suggestions. Along with the already-listed things, here are some of more successful physical fasts: soda pop, dairy products, baked goods, junk food, candy, salty snacks, fast food, ice cream, eating in restaurants and online games. Spiritual fasts that work well include avoiding criticism, self-pity, yelling, laziness and arguing. All fasting should be done with plenty of prayer. Almsgiving (giving up for Lent to give to others) is important too.
What happens if you break your fast?
Nothing. Everyone does. Just try again; it’s about practice, not perfection. To help kids learn about giving up for Lent, the Church teaches that Sundays are mini-Easters and that people may break their fasts on the Sundays of Lent.