Stepping inside a dark confessional booth, facing one’s sins, and confessing them to the priest is scary, even for adults who’ve confessed their sins routinely for decades.
For children, receiving the sacrament of confession is intimidating. It can be so frightening that they avoid it altogether, yet there are ways parents can make confession if not a pleasant experience, at least one that is less fearful – and even a relief as sins are unburdened.
In a May 14 Catholic Online story, it notes that 78 percent of Catholics fail to attend weekly Mass, and just 66 percent of Catholic parents say it is “very” important to them that their children celebrate their first communion.
Faced with those alarming statistics, it is critical that Catholic parents attend weekly Mass on Sunday – and make the important sacrament of reconciliation a priority for their children.
Catholic writer Debbie Gaudino, writing in Seton Magazine, shares tips her family uses to prepare their children for confession. Perhaps the best way, Gaudino writes, is for parents to live a life of forgiveness.
“From the time they were very small, my husband and I have taught our children to go beyond the perfunctory apology when they have done something wrong,” Gaudino writes. “Instead, we ask each other for forgiveness, and we extend forgiveness to each other when we have committed an offense.
“Saying we are sorry is not enough to repair a wrongdoing. Likewise, saying ‘It’s OK’ when someone has hurt us is a falsehood.” Humbly asking for forgiveness and receiving that forgiveness from the other person is a precursor to what happens in the sacrament of reconciliation, she notes.
Two of the other ways Gaudino and her husband attempt to make confession more pleasant are to provide opportunities for their children to practice inside the church confessional, following up with a discussion about kids’ fears and some ways to counteract them; and meeting and getting to know their parish priests outside the confessional.
“A few days prior to his first confession, my son shyly admitted to Father after Mass one Sunday that he was really nervous about going to confession,” Gaudino writes. “Father bent towards him and reassured him gently that Jesus loved him so much and so did he. I cannot overemphasize what a difference those words made to my son.”
Writer Nancy Flanders in the Catholic online article, “Your child’s first holy communion and confession shouldn’t be their last,” acknowledges that children often face critical glances as they make too much noise or fidget during weekly Mass.
Still, she says, parents must reinforce that children are welcome at Mass – and encourage them often to receive sacraments like confession. After all, Matthew notes in 19:24 that Jesus said, “Let the children come to me and do not prevent them; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”
A child’s first time receiving the sacraments of Penance and Reconciliation and Holy Communion should not be one-time occasions, Flanders notes. “It’s about more than a fancy suit or a pretty dress. It’s about the graces they receive and the path they will walk in life on their way to eternity.”