Full question: How did you teach your kids to fast? How old were they when they were expected to do it, how did you encourage them when they didn't want to, and what did you do if they refused?
Many began with expecting their kids to skip breakfast by age eight and worked up from there. Many mentioned the importance of focusing on the positive and not making the kids feel guilty about it. Many also mentioned how helpful it was to have a real need to be fasting for.
Anna (and Gerry)
We talked about fasting in Family Home Evenings lessons etc. A couple of the children wanted to try and fast earlier than their targeted baptism date. As we incorporated the law of the fast into home evenings and conversation about the gospel, I believe that it just became accepted as what we do, just like the word of wisdom, not dating before 16, temple marriage, etc. It was simply a package deal.
When they were baptized, I don’t think we ever tried to really force them to fast for 24 hours. We began by asking them to fast just the breakfast meal (depending on the time of our meeting schedule), and as they got older, of course more was asked of them. For some, they simply could not complete a 24 hour fast. In those cases they were encouraged to eat just what they “had to” to sustain their strength, but to abstain from goodies or foods eaten simply for pleasure. That might seem like a silly concept, but they could still feel that they made a “sacrifice” of sorts, when it was accompanied by prayer, and the proper attitude.
We felt like it was important that we not make fasting a negative experience when they were young. We were more concerned about the spiritual commitment, than the physical commitment.
Each made their own decisions, and each came to the right decision on their own, however at various ages. Our children were a little older when a man in our ward stood at the pulpit on one Fast Sunday, and asked us to fast and pray for him because he was going in for a life threatening surgery. For some of our children, I feel like that was almost life-changing, regarding fasting. The older children really fasted for him, on a weekday— meaning they fasted through their school day. It was a good experience for them...but done of their own accord.
Cynthia and Brad
Our best advice regarding teaching children how to fast would be to take it slow and let them decide when they are ready. We did it first, by portraying fasting as a "big boy" and "big girl" exciting thing to do. That was a motivator right there. Then, first they would eat their breakfast a little later. Then they would give up one food item they really wanted and eat the rest. Then go without breakfast and eat lunch. If they fasted breakfast and lunch, they ate dinner earlier than usual. It just progressed one step at a time. Finally, the big finale and lots of compliments. All along the way we talked about prayer and a proper attitude (don't feel sorry for yourself), and practical things like brushing your teeth so you don't feel gross. Keep in mind some little bodies can't handle fasting until they are older. One of our daughters was very thin and tiny. She valiantly tried to fast when she was about six, but ended up getting sick to her stomach.
The attitude of the parents is most important. Don't put a guilt trip on anyone or it backfires. No punishment if they refuse. Only rewards. Make it fun and a challenge. Good luck.
Marsha and Richard
We prepared them ahead by teaching them the beauty of the “opportunity” to fast and the power behind it. At first they were just expected to fast on Sunday morning but we taught the value of learning to fast the full 24 hours. This is an area where teaching doctrine is more important than teaching behavior. It was pretty well expected that they would not eat on Sunday morning and they did fine with that. We left it up to them to extend that to a “true” fast. Most often they made that step when we were fasting specifically for something they really cared about, often on a day other than fast day. They got the connection between making this sacrifice and letting the Lord know how sincere they were in their prayers.
As our children have grown they are still learning the value of a true fast, some sooner than others. This is a very personal thing and requires the development of a personal testimony of the principle of the fast. Our example of fasting, not only on fast day, but on other occasions as well, sometimes just to express gratitude, has hopefully, been a model for them.
Abigail (and Martin)
The subject of fasting is a challenge, but not one that can not be
overcome. It is a bit of a challenge for me because I suffer from
hypoglycemia making it difficult to always fast for a full 24 hours.
I find however that I have been blessed most months and have been able
to do so.
In the contest of teaching children about the principle of fasting, we
had many discussions with our children prior to their actual
baptism. With a few, we even had them practice fasting for one meal.
When they turned eight, we didn't make them fast 24 hours, but
gradually worked up to it. We also explained that there are some who
have special needs and that if it was necessary to have a sip of juice
or some small snack to help get through it was okay. By allowing
that, our children seemed to be able to fast quite well.
We also made the start of the fast special, often going out to dinner
or having a special meal. If there were special needs to fast for we
discussed those. The close of our fast also ended with a nice meal
and one final prayer to conclude/pray for whomever or whatever our
Marianne and John
We expected our children to fast when they turned eight. They were encouraged to fast for one meal a year or so before that. We talked about fasting for a purpose and tried to begin fasting with a prayer. It didn't always happen but generally we were pretty successful. I think example and strong expectations go a long way. One of our funny family stories was when our youngest daughter (about 7 yrs. old) was caught eating some cold cereal in the basement on fast Sunday morning. She came upstairs and indignantly said, "I'm just a fast faster!"
Rachel (and Bennett)
When my children were little, I didn't really start encouraging them to fast until they had been baptized. After that, I reminded and encouraged them, but it was always voluntary. I never forced them to fast, and they decided how long they could fast. I felt that was something that could best be taught by example. Occasionally, as they got older, when we would hold a special fast for some family member, we would encourage them to fast with us. It is always easier to fast when there is a specific purpose. Over time they learned, by watching our example, and through experience, that fasting is a way to have greater power with our prayers in meeting challenges we face in life.
Brianne and Spencer
We never expected or insisted on fasting at all. They only learned this by example, and they each waited until it was important to them. It was a teaching opportunity - natural step for a child who really wanted an answer, or blessing. This came at a different age for each child.
They were invited to fast for something critical we were praying about as a family when they were quite young and they might skip a meal. Fasting monthly for fast Sunday didn't happen till Jr. High or later and was a gradual process.
Kenneth and Catherine
We were the role model for our children on fasting. They started when they were baptized and confirmed. It was a family practice continually and we all fasted unless we were sick.
Next week's question: How did you model and teach your kids how to have a successful marriage relationship? What specific things did you teach or show them about marriage, particularly about resolving disagreements and enriching your relationship?