Five Ways to Get Your Child Ready for First Confession
First Reconciliation, or First Confession, often gets a lot less attention from parents and catechists than First Holy Communion, which generally takes place a few months later. Yet this sacrament is no less important in the spiritual development of your child. With good preparation, your child’s worries or anxieties about Confession can be eased. Here are 5 things parents can do to smooth the path to First Reconciliation:
5. Check That Conscience: One parish priest recommends that parents help their children with an age-appropriate examination of conscience as close to the celebration of the sacrament as possible. When this doesn’t happen, the children come in and have to start from scratch, trying to recall what their sins may have been. It is more beneficial to children to go through such an exercise several times prior to First Confession, so that they can begin to get a sense of examining their own consciences. The Catholic Prayer Book for Children features an examination of conscience that is designed specifically for children of this age.
Some children may worry that they will “get in trouble” for admitting to their sins. Others might be anxious about having to remember every single sin that they’ve committed throughout their lives. Diane Ahern’s book Today I Made My First Confession contains both a story about children admitting their guilt and a guide to the sacrament that will help ease children’s fears about Reconciliation. Parents and children can use this resource together as a way to supplement sacrament preparation at home.
4. Rehearse and Review: The words to the “Act of Contrition” have been simplified in recent years, so the prayer your child brings home from sacrament-preparation classes may not be the same one you learned as a student. To avoid confusion, learn the prayer together. Also, just as a dress rehearsal helps actors prepare before a performance, practicing the steps of the sacrament will help your child feel ready. Many parishes include such a dress rehearsal in their preparation of the children, but offer to help your child by practicing more at home. If your child fears that the whole church will be watching him as he receives the sacrament for the first time, such rehearsals can help him feel more at ease. A booklet such as The Sacrament of Reconciliation in My Pocket can also be a comfort to your child, who may be anxious about having to memorize and recite the prayer. Let him carry this booklet to the confessional and use it if necessary.
3. Ask a Godparent: Your child’s godparents promised to help that child throughout his spiritual life. Involve godparents by asking them to help reassure a child who is nervous about this sacrament. Perhaps the godparents can share their own experiences or those of their children.
2. Know Your Priest: For some children, the biggest hurdle is speaking to a stranger. To help a child who feels intimidated about talking one-on-one with Father, reassure him that Father will not yell at him or punish him for any of the sins that he has committed. Remind him that he is confessing his sins to God, through the priest. And let your child greet Father after Mass as the sacrament approaches, so that he will not, indeed, be speaking with a stranger. Read Father Jude Winkler, OFM Conv.’s booklet, The Sacrament of Reconciliation, with your child to help him understand what will happen during the sacrament.
And the number-one way to prepare your child for First Confession: Lead by Example. If you don’t regularly receive this sacrament, your child will not understand why it is important. It’s never too late to renew your own commitment to the sacrament of Reconciliation. Adults who need a “refresher course” might benefit from reading Encounter with Mercy: A Step-by-Step Guide to the Sacrament of Reconciliation.