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My five year old is sharp. And sneaky. She’s also darling and an absolute blast. But oh, the sneakiness.
Her older sister is nine, and since we homeschool pretty much everything from math to sacramental preparation, the little one got to listen in last year as I prepared our oldest for First Communion. Four and half at the time, the five year old was especially interested to learn that until the age of reason, children are incapable of sin.
I could see the wheels turning behind those large, hazel eyes. I imagine her thought process went something like this:
You can’t sin until you are seven. Sin means doing bad things. I’m not seven. I’m four, so this means that….
“Mommy?” Saucer eyes. Innocent face. “I can’t sin. I can’t do bad things. I’m only four.”
This child makes me wonder if the age of reason should be negotiable. Because yes, she’s right. She is incapable of sin. But this is what happened next:
Uses her sister’s acrylic paints to give dolls a manicure: “I’m only four! I didn’t know it would be wrong!”
Tells me she’s brushed her teeth when I know she hasn’t: “Age of reason! Only five!”
Promises she hasn’t stolen fists full of chocolate chips from the pantry. Suspicious smears on her cheeks indicate otherwise: “How long until I’m G’s age? ‘Cause then I could really get in trouble….”
It’s maddening, but highly amusing. It also warms my Catholic mama’s heart. I see the Holy Spirit within her, perfecting His creation as she grows.
We first receive the grace of the Holy Spirit at baptism, but we are officially bestowed with His gifts at confirmation. As such, we tend to think of them in adult terms. But they apply to our children, too, even if they haven’t reached the age of reason. The key to developing these gifts in little ones is facilitating their awareness in an age appropriate way.
Wisdom: Pope Francis explains the gift of wisdom best: “it is the grace of being able to see everything with the eyes of God.” Rather than seeing the world and the decisions we make through the lens of our own brokenness, we look at them in the way of our Loving Father. To cultivate wisdom in children, we must teach them about the heart of God. Talk to your children about why and how God loves us. Explain that there are natural laws written on our hearts, then point out examples in your daily routine. Ask the Holy Spirit for the grace to model wisdom at home and your children will follow suit.
Knowledge: Wisdom gives us a window to the heart of God; knowledge gives us a glimpse of His mind by allowing us to understand our relationship to Him as creator and provider. To help our children develop this gift, we need only encourage a reliance on God through daily study and prayer. Make lists or draw pictures of God’s blessings. Post them and review each night as you offer simple prayers of thanksgiving as a family. The repeated devotion will spotlight the ways in which God has cared for your family, developing an understanding of His relationship with you and your children.
Understanding: Have you ever read a passage from scripture or the catechism and been confused by what it said? Understanding makes plain the teachings of Christ and his Church. For our children, understanding means exploring the whys and hows of the faith, helping them see the purpose behind the truth. To do this, try a matching game: connect each commandment to its corresponding natural law, then talk about why they go together. Also, when the inevitable “Why do I have to clean my room/take out the trash/play with my little brother” question arises, avoid the temptation to bark “because I said so!” Explain it as an act of service instead.
Piety: Piety is reverence, or the ability to act with humility in God’s presence. Our faith is full of signs and symbols that direct us toward that reverence. Consider a home altar with a prayer book, a crucifix, and a few pretty flowers. Take your children to visit Jesus in adoration; many parishes have holy hours set aside just for families. Encourage the simple act of genuflecting before entering the pew and when approaching the Blessed Sacrament. Modeling even the simplest acts of reverence will develop a sense of piety.
Right judgment: Also called counsel, right judgment is the gift that helps us discern good from evil. This can be difficult, despite the fact that a child’s world is typically more black and white than that of an adult. That which is immediate appealing to children may not always be of God. For instance, “borrowing” the neighbor’s soccer ball may seem like the right choice at the time. But the course of action is incorrect, and our children must know the appropriate way to handle such a situation. Try reading about the moral and theological virtues, then practice decision making skills with role play or a game like Chutes and Ladders to practice decision making skills. The more opportunity they have to practice right judgment, the better their ability to put it into action.
Fortitude: This is the courage to stand up for what we believe in, a task that has become more frequent and complicated of late. For the little ones, I look for opportunities to praise the good behavior they model for their friends. At home, I endeavor to set an example of charitable admonition when faced with difficult situations. it’s not always successful, but at least they see me try.
Fear of the Lord: Fear of the Lord is the ability to recognize his awesomeness, to see that all of creation is beautifully and wonderfully made. Fostering this is as easy as reveling in the natural world. Lay out under the stars at night. Study snowflakes under a magnifying glass. Press flowers in a heavy book. Look at the children’s baby pictures. More often than not, your children will be the first to point out the magnificence of God’s creation.
For all my daughter’s sneakiness, her perception of the precepts of our faith is encouraging. It means that for all the times we’ve messed up (and trust me, there are plenty), the Holy Spirit is at work through us and through our children. I thank God everyday for the gift of his Paraclete. He makes the days before and after the age of reason that much more joyful.
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