Catholic Activity: Examination of Conscience for Children
Teach your child to examine his conscience and pray an act of contrition every night.
The first thing, after "Dear Blessed Jesus," or whatever they like to call Him best, is their examination of conscience. This because it is easier to settle down to a really good talk with God after one gets the sins out of the way. This is why the Mass starts with the Confiteor.
The important thing about a child's examination of conscience is that he is assured his parents will not scold him if he reveals some carefully concealed guilt of the day. His sins are sins against God, not his parents, and he will not hesitate to drag out the most jealously guarded secrets if he is certain his parents understand that he is confessing to God, not to them, and that they will resist the temptation to lecture.
For instance, in the summertime we have a problem called "dirt in the hair." Every night the children turn up at bedtime with their heads gritty with topsoil. The culprit is conspicuous, if at all, only by his silence — until he examines his conscience. "I poured dirt on everybody's head because I felt like it." The immediate reaction of any normally weary mother facing a lineup of shampoos is at least mild rage, but in the face of such a confession freely made the only permissible comment is, "Are you really sorry?" to lead the self-accused to a sincere act of contrition.
"I am sorry and please help me not to do it again." Here they learn to guard against presumption. The inclination is to vow solemnly that they will never do it again (O happy day!); but sanctity does not come that easily. Unless they beg for the grace to reform, they are apt to do it again and again.
Some days are quite good and they will charge into night prayers loudly with, "I was very good today, God!" With presumption again in mind, it is better to say something like, "I tried to be good today, but if I did anything to offend You, I am sorry. Please help me never to offend You again."
Not all children are shouters at prayers, but we have had some who were, and their attempts to make themselves heard 'way off in Heaven certainly robbed their prayers, while not of sincerity, at least of privacy. Learning that God is near, is here, is everywhere, and can hear even the whispered prayers and secret thoughts, is a wonderful discovery for shouters and non-shouters alike and, incidentally, covers one whole lesson in the catechism.
Where is God?
If God is everywhere, why do we not see Him?
Does God see us?
Does God know all things?
Can God do all things?
Is God just, holy, and merciful?
The answers to all these questions can be learned in the course of the many interruptions to night prayers. "How can He hear me if I don't even see Him? When did He come in? Did He come in the door? Can He come through the wall? Could He see a mouse in the wall? A mosquito on the ceiling? If I just think my prayers, can He hear them?"
If the last question about God's being just, holy, and merciful seems a bit difficult, it fits in when we explain that confessing the sins of the day is something entirely between them and God, and is the reason — when correction and punishment are a mother's and father's concern elsewhere — they do not belong at night prayers. One sins against God, Who can already see the sin, and see the sorrow for it, and will reward a sincere confession with forgiveness and the grace to do better next time.
Activity Source: We and Our Children by Mary Reed Newland, Image Books, 1961