The Sensitive Child and Lent
Linking up to What I Wore Sunday. Hop on over for more pictures of Mass loveliness!
Lent is one of my favorite times of the Church year, as it is the forerunner to the Triduum. But it's a favorite for other reasons, too. I've shared with you that I'm struggling with the cross of PPD this Lent, and I always find a cross like that easier to bear in a time when we are looking to Christ and His cross. There is a lot of richness in these forty days, and the comfort of knowing that we are not alone in our suffering is a big part of that.
But, Lent and Easter can also be a challenge to teach children about, especially if you have a sensitive child. I was a sensitive child myself, and my oldest definitely falls in that category. We sensitive people feel the sufferings of others in a more acute way. Things that are sad seem really sad, and teaching a child like that about Jesus dying and suffering can be a real challenge.
I'm of the school of thought that you shouldn't teach children fluff (especially not fluffy theology). What you present to children should be full, rich, and deep. They must be given the fullness of the truth, if they are ever to fall in love with it. That being said, there is a difference between giving them the fullness of the truth and giving them the fullness of truth all at once. Teaching children about the faith should be kind of like the process of introducing a baby to solids. First you give them milk or formula, then you may give them pureed foods and foods that are small enough that they won't choke on, then somewhat bigger pieces and more complex foods, etc. At each stage, you are giving them real food, not something watered down to the point that it offers no nutrition. But, at each stage, you're also giving them only what they are actually ready for. (I wish I could claim this analogy as my own, but I have to thank good 'ole St. Paul for this gem.)
Teaching a child about her faith is much the same. Take the Eucharist for example. At every stage of the learning process, I teach our little ones that the Eucharist really is Christ. When they are babies, you point out the tabernacle to them, and tell them it is Jesus and that he loves them. When they are toddlers, they learn to blow Jesus a kiss, and maybe say a simple prayer. Then, when they are preschoolers, the questions start....and presumably, they never stop!
But when talking to a three year old, you don't explain the Eucharist in the same way that you would to an adult. You have to make it accessible to them. You have to put it in to words they know and understand.
This is the case even more so when you are teaching a sensitive three year old about the faith. The guidelines I'm giving you today work for the sensitive topics that arise in Lent (i.e. Jesus' suffering and death) but they also will work with teaching your sensitive child (or any child, really!) most anything about their faith.
1. Teach with love at the center. Our faith is one of love. It has Love Incarnate, born and died for us, at its very center. So, when you teach your sensitive child about the faith, help her to come to know God's love for her first and foremost. When you talk about the cross, present it as something that Jesus did because he loves us and didn't want us to have to suffer in that big way. He suffered and died because that was the way that he opened the gates of heaven, and he loves us so very much and wants us to be with him in heaven. Help her to see that when something bad happens, Jesus understands what that is like, and so we can offer up whatever bad things happen to us to Jesus. Since he loves us so very much, he will make sure that we are not alone, especially when we're sad.
2. Deal with the topic of sin with great gentleness. A sensitive soul does not need to be "guilted." Typically, it takes very little for a sensitive child to feel guilty, and so one must always be mindful to not cross that line. Surely, say what needs to be said to help your child understand what is right and what is wrong (and when they are old enough, teach them the word "sin" and help them to understand those implications...but don't worry about that kind of vocabulary with a three year old!), but stop there. Once she gets that what she did was wrong, there is no need to press the issue. And above all else, be quick to forgive the sensitive child, once she understands that what she did was wrong. When the child is younger than the age of reason, it is not necessary to talk about asking God for forgiveness, because she isn't spiritually mature enough to understand all that. Rather, what you teach her about right and wrong and forgiveness in her experience with you lays that foundation beautifully for the conversations that are to come as she gets older. If she understands right and wrong and the love and forgiveness of a parent from firsthand experience then she will "get" the Sacrament of Reconciliation much more easily.
3. Teach with love. This is actually different than #1, because this isn't about what you say, but rather what you do. When my oldest was two, and we took her to the Stations of the Cross at our parish, she saw the picture of Jesus being taken down from the cross and was very concerned that Mary was so sad. She was only two! Sensitive children pick up on these sorts of things much more easily. As I said, I'm not a fun of watering down the faith for them, so as they discover these more painful stories of our faith, they will need your love to navigate it. You can't hide the cross from them, but you can hold them if the thought of the cross makes them sad. You can hug them when they are worried that Mary looks sad, and tell them that the Blessed Mother is probably happy to know that they care so much about their "Mommy in heaven." I shared with you recently about our Saturday morning Mass dates (which actually got switched to Friday mornings, but are still the same idea). The tone I talked about there is the tone that you should assume most of the time that you are praying with your sensitive child. Embrace her, kiss her, pray lovingly with her, stroke her hair; whatever your child's favorite forms of affection are, employ them when teaching her about her faith.
4. Finally, BE SENSITIVE. Even if you are not a sensitive person yourself, be sensitive to how your sensitive child may perceive the harder parts of the faith. You don't need to be all, "Oh, yeah, Jesus died but HE ROSE AGAIN AND EVERYTHING IS HAPPY, SEE??" Because, if you are overly sensitive, everything is not happy. Jesus died? You mean, the Jesus that you've been teaching me to love? Why does he have ouchies? What is that soldier doing to him? BE SENSITIVE. Be aware that these are painful things for a sensitive person to talk about, and so proceed with much gentleness when the inevitable questions arise. Don't try to ignore the sadness they may feel, but help them to understand it and take it to prayer. Help them to see that their sadness can be a good thing - it is a sign that they truly love Jesus. Teach them to pray, "I love you, Jesus," and tell them that that prayer makes Jesus so very happy.
And now....what the littlest one and I wore!!!
Have a blessed week, everyone!!