As Catholic parents we all want to see our children grow in the Faith, overcome their temptations, and ever approach sanctity, but when John and Jane are screaming at each other over who is going to get the stuffed monkey, we might wonder how they are going get there.
Rather than telling them to share, times like these are golden opportunities to introduce the beneficial habit of making sacrifices. Not only does sacrifice habituate them to center their lives around the Cross, it also builds character by acclimating them to self-denial, and encouraging in them a spirit of generosity toward their Creator and toward their fellow man.
Here are five tips for making the habit of sacrifice a daily part of your child’s life:
Read to them about the saints. The lives of the saints are full of examples of sacrifice, most importantly, sacrifice in little, everyday things, just the sort of everyday things your child can give up. Child saints, like St. Maria Goretti, St. Germaine Cousin, St. Dominic Savio, and St. Agnes are especially useful examples for children.
Think in terms of a generous spirit. If example is their best teacher, take a cue from the Little Flower and be bold in making sacrifices. Offer up every cloth folded, pan washed, or stitch crocheted. Offer it up for the Holy Souls, united to the Cross, in reparation for sinners, or given over into the safe keeping of Our Lady to do with as she will. Have your children offer up the sacrifice of their chores as well: each toy they put away, each dish they take out of the washer.
Don’t be afraid to cull. Whether it’s toys, clothes, shoes, or books, a regular culling of items can help get rid of excess clutter and force children to get into the spirit of sacrifice and giving. Providing them with choices about what they can keep and what they can give away further supports their sense of independent self-sacrifice. Allow them to go with you when drop the items off at a charity. This helps them see the benefit of their sacrifice.
Redirect and refocus their pain. When a child gets a scrape or a bump they, as with just about anyone in pain, are focused on themselves. After ensuring that their booboo isn’t serious, and while cleaning them up or applying a salve, instead of immersing them in words of sympathy, acknowledge their pain, and help them unite it to Christ’s Cross. Feeling that they are not suffering alone, that Christ is with them, can give them strength to suffer with bravery.
Jump on your own crosses, even if they’re miniscule. Since we know just how much like sponges children are, your example is crucial. Don’t underestimate the impact your sacrifice of being inconvenienced by a bad driver or burning dinner can have on your children. Make your offerings aloud, and ask for the graces necessary to offer your sacrifice with love, generosity, and patience.
All of these tips serve to help your children think of God in more proximate terms, to foster a relationship with Our Lord based on sacrifice and the daily attempt to be more Christ-like.