This is the time of year when many churches will have a church-wide fast to set aside a specific time frame of focused prayer for their congregations. Fasting can help us remove distraction, develop the disciplines of training our minds and hearts, and just logistically give us more time to pray and study Scripture.
Fasting doesn’t just mean no time spent eating, but no time spend preparing food either! Some churches even encourage families to donate the money they saved on food during their fast to a ministry which feeds the hungry.
Fasting as a family can be a great God-focused bonding experience. But should children really participate in fasting with the rest of the family? Most doctors discourage fasting for children before they reach puberty. Fasting can have detrimental effects on children, the sick, the elderly, and nursing mothers. Children can be at particular risk for problems that arise from fasting because their little bodies are still growing and their metabolisms are so high.
If you choose to let your child fast from food, you could make the experience safer for them by having them do a modified fast—only fasting from one meal per day, or only eating a simple meal like bread and water rather than a full meal, or only eating vegetarian meals or vegan meals.
Focus on the Spiritual Purpose
Even if you choose not to let your child fast from food, that doesn’t mean they can’t still participate in the spiritual discipline of fasting with the rest of the family! Fasting isn’t just about the food, it’s about the sacrifice. Kids can still experience the spiritual benefits of fasting by choosing something else to give up rather than food. Talk to your kids about the spiritual purpose of fasting:
- When people give up food, it is a way of saying to God that He is their daily bread, that He is all they need, and that He is even more important to them than food.
- When people fast, they take the time they would have spent eating and dedicate it to special times of prayer and Bible reading.
- When their bodies feel hunger, it reminds them to turn their thoughts to God.
- Some people use fasting as a time to rid themselves of distraction and really focus on God, to seek His will for their life, their family, or their church.
Kids can take those same spiritual purposes and apply them to giving up something else.
How to Do a Non-Food Fast with Your Kids
Help your child choose something that they really love and that they typically use every day. In order for them to experience the feeling of “hunger” for the thing they sacrificed, it needs to be something they will really miss. It may be their favorite snack, their favorite TV show, or their favorite game or toy.
Once you have chosen an item for them to “fast” from, help them figure out how they will replace the item they sacrificed with time with God instead. Maybe during the time they would typically have their snack or watch their favorite show, you can read the Bible or pray together instead. You can even spend that time praying for God’s direction for their life.
Every time they feel that “hunger” and say they wish they could play with that favorite toy or ask if they could watch that favorite show, remind them to turn their thoughts to God by asking them to tell you something they love about God.
Kids don’t have to give up food in order to experience what fasting is all about! In fact, for a lot of kids, giving up video games or TV shows will be a whole lot more effective in helping them understand sacrifice and putting God first!
Sample Week-Long Fast With Kids
Give Up: Secular Music
Fill Up: Worship Music
Give Up: Sweets
Fill Up: Extra Veggies
Give Up: Screens
Fill Up: Extra Bible & Prayer
Give Up: Afternoon Free Time
Fill Up: Service Project
Give Up: Unkind Words
Fill Up: Write Encouraging Notes
Give Up: Movie Night
Fill Up: Board Game Night