During the last snow storm, my wife took my son outside to play in the snow. Later on, I saw a video my wife posted of my son cleaning off our car with a snow brush. With it she wrote: raise capable kids.
It’s a great concept, one that the organization Rezilient Kidz ran with and crafted a 13-week curriculum for parents called, “Raising Highly Capable Kids” (see rezilientkidz.com for more).
Part of the program is based on research from the Search Institute, who developed the trademarked Developmental Assets Framework. After decades of research with more than four million children, the Search Institute found that children who had these skills, supports and values, showed noticeable improvements in school, while avoiding harmful behaviors.
All of this made me think: could we use the same concept to raise capable Catholic kids?
What would these specific “assets,” so to speak, look like?
Well, here are some initial thoughts. By no means does what I am about to share serve as an “end all, be all” to this regard. However, my hope is to at least spark thinking and conversation on the matter.
And with Lent now here, this could be a great season to approach these as a family. In all of these, you will realize that when parents and families take the lead, rather than delegate these for others to teach, the likelihood of raising capable Catholic kids is much stronger.
1. Be Rooted in God
It’s one thing to go to church, it’s another to want to go. I am convinced that the difference is in whether or not someone has encountered the Risen Lord. Once that occurs, how you live, the decisions you make, and what you prioritize are all affected by a relationship with God. So how do we begin to help our children do this? Make sure that the Sacraments are a regular part of your family’s life. After all, that is where we encounter Christ in a very real way. What we prioritize as parents, our kids — especially at a young age — will prioritize and mimic (see Christian Smith’s “Soul Searching and Religious Parenting”). When they become available, utilize retreats, camps, Vacation Bible Schools, and mission trips as immersion and encounter experiences.
2. Serve Others
At the heart of the Commandments to love God and neighbor is the altruistic understanding that we give without expecting a return. Helping kids understand this is crucial. It helps them see others as real people deserving of our aid, as well as realizing their own ability to effect change. As a family, you can begin simply by engaging in acts of service for each other, without expecting a return. Then, engage in a service project together as a family. Mandatory service hours where kids get dropped off can be hit or miss. When families serve together, or do anything else together for that matter, it helps drive home to our kids this is important.
3. Know and Share the Faith
Talk about the faith together. It goes a long way toward fostering a home environment where kids feel comfortable talking and sharing about God as a normal part of who they are. If you don’t know where to start, check out Catholic Sprouts or the Domestic Church Project. You don’t need to have an advanced theological degree to share the faith with your kids. And you’d be surprised at how much kids pick up, even when we don’t think they’re listening. Start by reading Scripture together. Share your own witness and experiences of God and Church. Talk about the Ten Commandments and how you can live each one as a family. Look up the lives of the saints. Meg Hunter-Kilmer has a great podcast, “Hobo for Christ,” with saint stories for kids. Listen to any of these and then talk about it together. When you don’t know an answer, just say that and then find the answer together.
4. Have an Active Prayer Life
The Mass is the greatest form of prayer. We purchased a little Mass kit for our kids to use when they watch Mass at home (Well, really for my son. My daughter is still an infant). It’s surprising how observant he is. Taking the wooden “host,” he makes sure to hold it just like the priest is before elevating it. We can see him learning a reverence for what is happening. We didn’t teach him to do that. We just created the opportunity for him and he — even at a very young and wryly age — can start to appreciate that. Don’t underestimate your kids’ ability to grasp the Sacred. Pray together: before bed, meals, sports games, or in the car. Create family rituals around devotions (see fallriverfaithformation.org for family resources on Lent and the Year of St. Joseph). Make prayer a habit and your kids will too.
5. Be a Genuine Christian Friend
Kids need friends. But more importantly, they need genuine friends. For some, they will turn to their friends more than their parents (although, statistically, kids still turn to their parents and other trusted adults more often, even if it doesn’t always seem like it. See Barna’s “Households of Faith” and SRI’s “Belonging”). In some of the more trying times in my life, having faith-filled friends made a world of difference. It’s important to first teach them what a healthy relationship is and how they can be a genuine Christian friend to others. This starts by modeling those kinds of relationships for them.
6. Be Connected to the Church Community
When Graduation 2020 was postponed due to the pandemic, our church in New Jersey made a yearbook edition of the bulletin, gave gifts to graduating seniors, and did a celebrate graduates social media campaign. It became a great way to connect teens to the Church. Likewise, as a family, look for ways to connect into your Church community. In addition to Mass and Faith Formation/youth ministry, how can you plug into a service drive, festival, or parish tradition (even if it looks different during this time)? Growing up in a Portuguese parish, taking part in the festivals and processions helped me develop a sense of identity and purpose that has stuck with me all these years.
I’m sure you can think of other ways to also help foster a lived faith in families and children. But, I invite you this Lent to at least think of these six items and how we can work to raise capable Catholic kids and take ownership of our own domestic churches.
Anchor columnist David Carvalho is the senior director for Faith Formation, Youth, Young Adult and Family Life Ministries for the Diocese of Fall River. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.