Do you remember the first time you went to confession? I was six-turning-seven and have strong memories of nervously waiting my turn and of walking up the steps of a side altar to the makeshift face-to-face confessional that was set up. I also remember studying over an examination of conscience at home, and only finding two sins to confess.
It makes me cringe a bit because I’m certain there were many more things I could have said, but I was quite legalistic in my reading of the questions in the guide, and trying to remember the past and match those memories to the questions was a challenge for me.
I remember that the priest was very kind and encouraging. Because our parish was led by Dominicans, I can also recall his long white robe, his big rosary, and (the few times I dared to look up at his face) his gentle smile. Overall, it was a positive experience, and over the years I have grown in my appreciation for the gift of confession.
I want to help my children come to know that gift too.
The fall months are a time when many parishes around us have First Reconciliation. In addition to religious education class, here are some ways you might want to try to help get your child ready for this great sacrament.
FAMILY EXAMINATION OF CONSCIENCE
Try doing a family examination of conscience at night. Read a confession guide aloud at night and allow a few minutes for people to reflect quietly to themselves on how they lived their day. This way, the pressure is off any one person, especially the child preparing for the sacrament. But it gives them space and time to process the questions asked, allowing them to see mom/dad and older siblings thinking about the same things they are thinking about.
You might show what confession is like by modeling how you go and what you say. Run through the “script” of confession for your kids, starting with the sign of the cross, and then continuing “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned,” or by responding Amen to the confessor’s prayer. You can “confess” sins your children already know and see you commit — losing your temper, speaking unkindly, etc. Then, have the child try to run through the process with you. Many people learn better by doing it themselves, so actually saying the words out loud in order is helpful.
The sacrament can be especially intimidating the first time, so the more you’ve practiced at least what to say, the easier it might be. I wouldn’t have your child name actual sins when practicing; just say, “These are my sins, blah blah blah.” I think it is important to reinforce how real the seal of confession is from a young age. No one will know your sins — not mom and dad — only the priest. And even if the priest remembered them, he could never ever tell anyone.
Bring your child along to confession at the parish where they are receiving the sacrament some time before the big day. That way it is not so foreign or scary the day of. Seeing you go to confession will make the sacrament more approachable, too.
start a family tradition
Consider starting a family tradition where you go to confession together once a month and then go out for a fun treat afterwards. You could have confession followed by bowling or confession and movie night on a certain Saturday every month. If there is a way to make a positive association with the sacrament from an early age, it can help your child be able to happily return to the sacrament into adulthood.
Every family and child will be different, so take into consideration your family dynamic and your specific child’s personality when helping them prepare. It might even look different for you from one kid to another, and that’s okay!
At the end of the day, God’s grace is more powerful than any preparation we can give. Holy Spirit, please guide our children making their First Confessions!