Teach your kids about sacrificial love while creating cherished family traditions.
Children are able to grasp the concept of sacrificial love; you just need to put it into a context they can understand. Do your kids love Disney’s Frozen? Anna leaping in front of Elsa to save her from the falling sword – and giving her life – is a good pop culture example they will grasp. Tell them that Jesus loves us so much that he died so that we could enter into heaven.
- Use a beautifully illustrated, age-appropriate book like this one to tell the story of Easter to young children. Or try a comic book Children’s Bible like this one to make it easier for the children to visualize each step of the story.
- Invite your kids to color one of the scenes of Jesus’ Passion on printable coloring pages (a selection is available here).
- Finger paint a wooden cross, like this one available at Michael’s.
- Create a “sacrifice jar” out of a simple mason jar decorated with a cross. Mom, Dad or child can drop a raisin, stickers, marbles, beads, or even tiny LEGO pieces (from a new set) every time the kids do a good deed to make Jesus feel better today, like sharing their toys, not fighting with their siblings, doing chores right away when asked, saying something kind to another person, or giving out free hugs to friends and family. The goodies in the sacrifice jar will be saved for Easter Sunday.
At this age, children are more curious about the details of Jesus’ suffering and death. The story can be told more in depth, but always with an eye to the deepest message: that Jesus could have made it stop at any time, but he accepted everything because his love is so strong that he wanted to sacrifice himself for our salvation.
- Invite the children to create a large cross on a big sheet of poster board, and have them draw Jesus on the cross. Also have them write in their names and the names of everyone they know at the foot of the cross to symbolize that he was praying for each one of us and offering his life for us.
- Have the kids create their own stations of the cross by drawing each station, then placing them around the house or in the back yard. In the evening, turn down the lights, give each child (those old enough) a small votive candle, and pray the stations of the cross together as a family, visiting the stations that they made.
- Have the children create their own Rosary out of beads and string, and then pray the Sorrowful Mysteries together with them.
- If you are very ambitious, help the kids make a tomb out of papier maché, and place a figure of Jesus inside the tomb on Good Friday. Break open the tomb on Easter Sunday.
Depending on each child, it may be possible to show them some of the less graphic scenes from Mel Gibson’s movie The Passion of the Christ and then talk about it afterwards. The scene of the Last Supper, or the agony in the Garden, or the moment of his arrest could be appropriate for kids this age (but watch them yourself first to see what you think). The betrayal of Judas might also be a theme worth exploring, since friendship is so central to children at this age. Activities could also center on taking a stand as Jesus’ friend, even though others deserted or betrayed him.
- Have the kids make a crown of bendable twigs (thorns or sharp things optional) and also a crown of flowers to represent the two ways of responding to Jesus’ friendship.
- Set aside time as a family to do an act of charity or public service together, like cleaning up litter from a public place, or serving food at a soup kitchen. You could also visit a nursing home, or encourage your kids to donate toys to a children’s hospital. Doing something to reach out to someone in need or someone who might feel abandoned and forgotten is a good lesson that can be related back to Jesus on the cross.
- Find a spot in the yard that looks barren or forgotten, and plant flowers there to represent how acts of love are creative and can transform not only places, but also our hearts and communities.
At this age, most kids can watch the full Passion of the Christ movie, but they need to be accompanied. Set up some time for conversation and prayer after the movie so that they have time to assimilate its message.
This might also be a good age to talk about deeper questions, like why God allows suffering in the world, and why suffering also touches our lives at times. The topic of forgiveness is also on target (and crucial for teens to learn before they truly become adults).
- You may want to guide your talks about suffering by using a book, or by reading and discussing certain passages. One good resource is When God Weeps: Why Our Sufferings Matter to the Almighty by Joni Eareckson Tada. Kids with more philosophical questions might want to try C.S. Lewis’ classic The Problem of Pain.
- This might also be a time to introduce the kids to current or recent individuals whose lives are an example of forgiveness in the wake of extreme suffering and hardship. The Rwanda genocide survivor Immaculée Ilibagiza’s book Left To Tell: Discovering God Amid the Rwandan Holocaust is an excellent illustration of faith and forgiveness during a period of unimaginable suffering. Cardinal Nguyen Van Thuan, who survived nine years in solitary confinement under the Communist regime in Vietnam tells his story in a gripping book The Road of Hope.
- At this age, when kids tend to get absorbed in their own problems and drama, acts of service and charity can be powerful ways of helping them get a bigger perspective. At this age, consider volunteering at a homeless shelter, or helping Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity if they have a house in your city, or volunteering at a cancer hospital. These activities don’t necessarily need to be done on Good Friday, but they’re a nice way to bring out the Good Friday spirit through service.
In the end, what matters most are not the little crafts and activities, but the traditions you build as a family. Sometimes the best ways to spend this special time together are the simplest. Praying the stations of the cross as a family, doing acts of service and charity, or making a visit to a chapel to pray for loved ones are moments that children remember as they grow older, and that will shape their understanding of the Christian faith for years to come.