For children, the idea of delayed gratification, or sacrifice now for blessings later, can be a little hard to grasp. It may be hard to think beyond rumbling bellies to larger purposes. Parents and Primary leaders can teach about fasting as guided by the Spirit. No child should be forced to fast, and they should be old enough to understand (starting after baptism in many families, i.e. Senior Primary). Here are some ideas:
- Start by teaching about the how and why of fasting. Check out this Friend article explaining fasting in kid-friendly terms: What Are Fast Offerings?
- Emphasize the purpose: helping the poor and seeking special blessings for those in need. Children love to help! They might love to know that their faith and prayers and fasting efforts, however small, might actually help someone. When the ward or family has a special fast in behalf of someone who needs extra help, include children in that effort. Even children who are too young to fast can pray for the person during that fast.
- Fasting is a principle of problem solving. Note that the footnote for the word “fasting” in Mark 9:29 is “problem solving.” Perhaps the child himself is struggling with something that “goeth not out but by prayer and fasting” (Matthew 17:21). You may want to join with a child in fasting about a big problem they face or a big question for which they answers.
- Consider a Primary fast. There may be special needs in your Primary for a particular child or leader. Consider fasting and praying together as a Primary.
- Even Jesus fasted before he did hard things. Matthew 4:1–4 tells about Jesus fasting for 40 days and 40 nights before He began His ministry.
- Hunger pangs are just a reminder to pray for the purpose of the fast. Teach children that prayer and fasting go together. Begin and end your fast with prayer. And whenever you feel hungry, it’s just a reminder to pray for what you’re fasting about. And being a little hungry once a month helps build compassion for the poor who are hungry all the time.
- It’s OK to start easy, by missing just one meal. Or some families ask children just to fast from sweets for 24 hours as a modified fast. Going without dessert can be a big effort for a little kid! And if a child wants to give up sooner, praise them for trying and help them end their fast early with prayer.
- You won’t starve, and fasting is actually good for your body. Reassure the children that they might be hungry, but they won’t starve to death. Some studies show that periodic fasting actually boosts health.
- Let children take a turn giving the fast offering envelope. The savings from the two skipped meals is given to the bishop to help the poor and needy in your ward or anywhere in the world if there are extra funds. Talk children through how the parents make that calculation, and let them submit the family’s fast offering envelope, if appropriate. If a child already knows of someone who is struggling with unemployment or illness in your ward, you can help them understand how fast offerings might be used to help that person.
- Bear your testimony of fasting. Share how fasting helps you draw closer to God, or tell about times when fasting has blessed you or someone you know. Testify of the Lord’s desire to bless us, and how pleased He is when we make this sacrifice on behalf of others, or to seek His guidance in problem solving in our own lives.
What ideas have worked for you when you were first learning to fast, or teaching children about fasting? Add your thoughts below!