Getting Kids to ConfessionART BENNETT
My children don't like to go to confession. I want them to go regularly, but sometimes I wonder if it's really necessary because it's so difficult to make it work out. What should I do?
Reconciliation isn’t just like a car wash and wax - it’s also an entire tuneup. It doesn’t just cleanse us, it also fixes the brakes and, if our examination of conscience is thorough, looks very carefully under the hood. We receive the power of the Holy Spirit and we’re better equipped to overcome temptation.
To get our kids inside the box, though, we have to start thinking outside the box.
Asking your kids if they feel like going to confession won’t work in most cases. You can guess ahead of time that they’ll say No. If we wait for them to want to go, they probably never will.
It’s helpful to realize that that’s true for a lot of other important things, too: Who waits impatiently through dessert for the opportunity to wash dishes?
The best way to lead our kids to go to confession is usually simple and direct ... but smart.
A “let’s get in the car and go to confession!” will likely draw complaints, pleading, claims to have nothing to confess and so on. You would probably get less resistance if you gave more advance notice: “Let’s go to confession tomorrow at 3.”
Or perhaps you can build a regular expectation of confession: “We’ll be going to confession as a family every month (or every two weeks) at 3 p.m. on Saturdays. Does anyone have a big problem with that?”
A covert approach is to tell everyone it’s time to head to the mall - or as my wife and I tried recently, the movies. Then on the way you make a quick detour to the Saturday afternoon confessional and say, “Oh, let’s stop for confession first.”
The car ride over can address the normal anxieties. With the younger kids you might have to rehearse the Act of Contrition. The older kids, if they’re like mine, want nothing to do with face-to-face confession. That’s fine - remind them that behind the screen will do. Perhaps you could rehearse the commandments or the beatitudes. Pray to Mary for a good confession.
The kids will take their cue from the adults, but they test us to see how important we really think it is. Let them see that we think confession is crucial. It puts us in the concrete, personal presence of Christ’s mercy. And therein lies all hope.
After confession you go to the mall or the movies or out to dinner. But do it as a celebration: “Now that we’re all in the state of grace and closer to Christ, let’s celebrate.”
The celebratory aspect of confession is important. Look at that great parenting parable of the prodigal son: ... He was lost and has been found.’ Then the celebration began” (Luke 15:11-22).
Somehow, we get our kids to school every morning and to Mass every Sunday and holy day. Somehow, we get them to the dentist, orthodontist or pediatrician.
Use the same skills for confession. Prayerfully ask Christ for help, add yourself and your confession into the mix, and let your family have a great time on the way home.
Art A. Bennett. “Getting Kids to Confession.” Family Matters: National Catholic Register (November 5-11, 2000).
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Art A. Bennett is a licensed marriage, family and child therapist.
Copyright © 2000 National Catholic Register
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