This post is part of the Ultimate Guide to Holy Week! OH! And there’s an infographic version further down the page!
Don’t underestimate your child. Don’t think fasting is so impossible that a kid could never do it. With a little bit of preparation, effort, and encouragement, your child can fast Holy Week (Monday through Saturday) — and be prepared to fast even longer in the future.
But YOU are the key to your child’s successful fast.
Your child can fast Holy Week if…
1. You’re a good example
If you aren’t a happy faster, how can you expect your child to want to do it? If your fasts lack sincerity and honesty, how can you expect your child to feel prepared for the challenge. He should see you turn stuff down because your fasting. You should verbalize the struggle in a positive way, so he understands it’s not all fun and games.
Being a good example takes a balance of both. For example, if we walk by the bakery in Publix, it’s okay to say in a neutral or upbeat voice, “I love cheesecake, but since I’m fasting, I’m going to wait till after Easter to pick up one of these babies!” It’s not okay to grumble, “ARGH! What a bummer! I am SOOO craving cheesecake, but I’m stuck fasting for two more weeks! How annoying!” (I know, I know… you never think that, you darling saint you.)
2. You can be realistic
A child is a child; and you know your child best. My daughter’s first few fasts (at age 4?) were very short (1-2 days) and included glasses of chocolate milk. You know your child’s health and ability. Be realistic about what she can do. You want her to feel successful at the end of the fast (and not like a failure). But don’t underestimate her maturity. Kids can handle challenges far above what we usually allow them as protective parents.
3. You plan together
You know what vegan foods your child will eat. Sit and brainstorm together the kinds of lunches and dinners that will get a thumbs up. Bend the health rules a bit to accommodate (but, no, you don’t have to throw them out). Peanut butter and jelly for dinner is just fine. Consume more fruit. Noodle soup without the chicken. Bread and butter if you have to. French fry sandwiches. Rice. Pita bread dipped in molasses (3asal eswid ya gama3a). Whatever he’ll agree to*. It’s just a week (or whatever length you decide). The lessons of self-discipline earned far outweigh the exceptions you make. Make sure you stock up on vegan snacks as well!!
4. You anticipate hurdles
When my daughter first began to fast, I told her upfront that the day she decided to fast, the devil would make sure there are special treats at school. Sure enough, her teacher baked chocolate chip cookies yesterday and all her friends bought pizza from the cafeteria. She came running home to tell me, “MOM YOU WERE RIGHT! YOU WERE SO RIGHT!”
It was easy for her to say no to the treats because we had already talked about it. I told her very honestly that it always feels like people make tons of treats if we’re fasting, but in truth, people bring in treats all year. And the treats will be there after the fast.
5. Rejoice in the rewards
When she told me about her experience with the chocolate chip cookies, I told her, “You know what? The cookie gets digested and is gone forever. But the fact that you said no to that cookie to honor God builds a reward in heaven–where moths can’t destroy or thieves steal–that’s a Bible verse.” And we high-fived about it.
How to open the subject
Children do what you make them believe they can. Teach them that they can tackle any challenge, that they can discipline their bodies and make good decisions. It starts with a little vegan food for a couple of days, but with prayers it leads to immeasurable blessings.
But how to open the subject?
Here’s a sample script:
“Hey, honey, can you come sit with mommy for bit? Do you know what next week is? It’s Holy Week–the most important and blessed week of the whole year. That’s when our Lord Jesus Christ died on the cross for us and rose after three days. Do remember what that big feast is called? Well, do you know how mommy and daddy have been fasting for a few weeks now? We would like you to fast for Holy Week.
“I know it sounds hard, but it’s actually pretty easy and a lot of fun. You know how you like fries* with ketchup? Well, they’re fasting food! You know how you love watermelon? Next week, you can have watermelon… And corn on the cob? I know that’s your absolute favorite! That’s good to have in the fast too. Let’s sit together and figure out what you can eat for lunch and dinner next week, so we can all be fasting together–the whole family!!”
Be yourself. Be yourself. Be yourself. But encourage your child, make him feel good about fasting, help him feel successful, put a smile on his face. Fasting isn’t the glum event some people make it out to be. It’s an adventure.
*I’m a mildly crunchy mom. But in the fast, you gotta do what you gotta do. Actually my daughter hates fries. And ketchup. But that’s a different post.
I have this awesome Holy Week Guide with lyrics for the major hymns and some extra stuff for parents. Get it sent to your e-mail now.