Children and Repentance (Judy Pappoff)
As adults, we struggle with repentance. We are often afraid to confess our sins to our priest even though we may be truly sorry and committed not to do the same thing again. Why do we need to confess to our priest? We need to recognize that our sins, even the most personal, represent a wound to the Church as well as to ourselves, and that Jesus Christ is the Divine Physician of our souls and bodies. St. John Chrysostom wrote, “By sin, we separate ourselves both from God and from His Church…Did you commit sin? Enter the Church, repent for your sin, for here is the physician, not the judge. Here one is not investigated, one receives remission of sins.”
Our children need to learn that sin is turning away from God, and that the Church brings us back to God and cleanses us of sin though the Mystery (Sacrament) of Repentance, also called confession. Parents need to be both guides and examples from the time toddlers begin interacting with others. Here are ways you can aid your child’s understanding of repentance.
1. Listen when your child explains what he or she has done. React as God would want you to. Respond as you would have others respond to you. Discuss (not lecture about) what has occurred because of the child’s act. Explain how God created all things and does not wish us to be destructive; and/or that God loves every person, and wishes us to be kind and loving to all. Help your son or daughter put his/herself in the “other person’s shoes,” with phrases like, “How would you feel if …” If the child responds with, “But he did it first!” ask the child to think of different ways to handle that situation. Urge the child to say, “Stop it!” loudly, or take the role of the child and model how to express hurt – “I feel hurt when you make fun of my name, please stop.”
2. Teach your child how to apologize sincerely. We have all heard the “Sorry!” that passes as apology in many families. This is really a learned way to avoid getting into more trouble from Mom and/or Dad, not a real apology. Parents need to model sincerity in asking forgiveness. “I am so sorry I was not patient with you today. It must be really frustrating for you when I do not let you finish what you are saying. I will try to be more patient and listen to what you have to say next time.” Of course, you, as parent, do really need to strive to be more patient and actually listen in the future. When your children hear you express true sorrow, and hear your resolve not to do the same hurtful thing again, they are likely to follow your example.
3. Help your child to apologize with a complete sentence. The child should include a) how he/she is sorry for what he/she did, and b) that it was wrong or hurtful, and c) that he/she will refrain from that behavior in the future. When your child has trouble finding the words, offer help.
4. Urge your child to go to Confession. Explain that God created us to live united with Him. When we sin, we turn away from God. God wants us to come back to Him. The Mystery, or Sacrament, of Repentance allows us to ask forgiveness of God. We are then reunited with Him and are cleansed of our sin. Just as an apology can bring people closer, so too, with God. Explain what Confession means to you, and how you feel when you are absolved.
5. We parents need to receive the Sacrament of Confession regularly. Parents should go to Confession, and bring their children. The child, while still very young, can sit in the back of the church and will come to know that Confession is part of our Orthodox life. Encourage your children to begin receiving Confession as early as the priest suggests, as older children may have undue anxiety about Confession.
6. Read the lives of the saints to your children, or with them. A few suggestions are St. Mary of Egypt, St. Moses of Ethiopia, St. Photini (women at the well), St. Pelagia of Antioch and Jerusalem. Through these stories, children and adults can come to a greater understanding of what repentance, “metanoia,” really means.
by Judy Pappoff, Faith and Family (Sept 2002)