Saturday, February 25, 2017

Using Lent to Teach Kids Self-Control

When I was younger, I used to think “giving something up” for Lent was a naïve practice that was either a.) A way to buckle down on discarded New Year’s resolutions, or b.) An archaic, superstitious practice to appease God through meaningless sacrifice.

As I matured, I realized the wisdom in Lenten penitence as a way to develop self-control. Now that I'm preparing to be a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA), I've been brushing up on my research in “resiliency,” the ability to overcome a difficult childhood. One of the main characteristics of resilient people is that they have an “internal locus of control.” Basically, this means that they believe that they are responsible for their successes or failures, as opposed to those with an “external locus of control,” who believe that their lives are determined by powers beyond their control (luck, fate, etc.). It makes sense; the best way to overcome victim mentality is to take control of your own life.   

Self-control is a precursor to having an internal locus of control, and Lenten fasting is a great opportunity to beef-up the muscle that is “willpower.”

Of course, for Catholics, the Lenten fast doesn’t just develop self-control simply for the sake of personal betterment, but for the sake of spiritual betterment—strengthening us against temptation to help with our sanctification. In fact, in the early church, the practice of Lenten fasting (and accompanying prayer and almsgiving) was mainly for potential converts to the faith working on purification and enlightenment before being baptized at Easter. Quickly, the rest of the church adapted the practice to prepare to renew our baptismal vows at Easter.

So, for us, the chief aim of our Lenten sacrifice shouldn’t be for the sake our own wellness, but should directly root out our vices to purify us from sin. Vices are habits inclining us to sin. Basically (Vice x Temptation) + Action = Sin.

Over the past few years, I’ve been pretty lax on myself in regards to Lent. One year I gave up alcohol (I was pregnant). Another year I gave up sleeping through the night (I had a newborn)...come to think of it, this lax behavior might be inherited; I do remember a certain someone from my family always giving up watermelon, which not only isn't available in late-winter, but also isn't even liked by that certain someone...

But this year, I don’t have any excuses. I’ve been trying to figure out a Lenten sacrifice that could really help me grow spiritually. So, being analytical, I created a handy-dandy chart to help guide me (and any other discerning souls) to what I should give up for Lent according to what vice I want to eliminate:

I have until Wednesday to decide my direction, so I’m using this “Shrovetide” to discern.

My 3-year-old already decided on a couple sacrifices of her own. She’ll be giving up 1.) sleeping downstairs (she’s gotten into the habit of coming down in the middle of the night and sleeping on the couch), and 2.) putting too many bubbles in the bath. I assure you, these were entirely her ideas, and I definitely don’t expect perfection! In fact, one of the best lessons of Lenten sacrifices is the humbling effect of failure.  

Besides Lenten fasting, we try to refine our children’s “locus of control” in other ways as well. Louisa knows that she’s “The Boss” of her attitude (helpful when she’s in a crabby mood) and that she’s “The Boss” of her brain (helpful when she’s scared at night). Even with two-year-old Victor we play games like red-light/green-light and Simon Says, helping him control his actions. And of course setting clear boundaries helps them understand when they are not in control.

What tactics do you use to teach your children self-control?

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