A child is a young human being below the age of puberty or below the legal age of majority.
Fasting is a deliberate abstinence from physical gratification—usually going without food for a period of time—to achieve a greater spiritual goal.
The holy books refer to fasting as abstaining from food for spiritual purposes. Normally fasting includes abstaining from all food, solid or liquid, but not water. Occasionally, we find what has been called an “absolute fast.” or an abstaining from both food and water. That appears to be for desperate measures to meet dire emergencies. For the purposes of this post (and when dealing with kids), I want us to consider a partial fast or a restriction of one’s diet but not a total abstention.
Parents and caregivers should keep the following in mind when caring for a fasting child especially during this Ramadan period:
- The breakfast meal is an essential part of fasting, especially for children. They should have fiber-rich foods such as whole wheat cereals, wholegrains, legumes, fruit and vegetables and good sources of protein such as lean meats, nut butters, eggs and dairy products in order to stay full for longer.
- They should be encouraged to avoid high-sugar foods, since it will increase their cravings and provide little nutrients within the calories.
- Children should also stay away from salty foods to decrease the risk of thirst, avoid high-intensity exercise, and drink lots of fluid during non-fasting hours to remain hydrated.
- Avoid forcing children to overeat to compensate for the decreased calories. Overeating will only cause indigestion, bloating and discomfort. It may be better for children to split meals to prevent overloading of food.
- Carbonated drinks, spicy, and fried foods should also be avoided to limit digestive problems.
- The most important thing when fasting (or not fasting, for that matter), is eating a variety of foods from all food groups, such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains (cereals, brown pasta, breads), dairy products, meats and healthy fats (olive oil, nuts, avocado).
Here are some practical ways to fast with kids:
- Make different choices. For a period of time, choose healthy foods for snacking. Instead of cookies, choose carrots. Instead of soda choose water. Instead of fast food, choose nutritious meals.
- Abstain from sweets. Lead kids to not eat sugar-based foods (candy, cake, pastries) for a designated time.
- A digital fast. As a family, decide to fast from technology. This could be as simple as not using the DVD player or decoder to complete abstinence for a week or month.
- Grow from short to more intensive fasts. Don’t start with a 40 day, “no (fill in the blank)” fast that will be difficult to achieve. Start small and build on success.
Be intentional about helping kids understand why you’re fasting. Carbonated drinks, spicy, and fried foods should also be avoided to limit digestive problems.
- Fasting should center on God. If you fast for any reason other than to center on Him; His will and His desire, it will be in vain.
- Fasting reminds us that God is our provider of every good and perfect gift. Help kids find this reality.
- Fasting helps us focus. The point of a fast is to focus on a particular issue, need, concern, or desire. Determine the point and be very intentional to share and help kids understand.
- Fasting is a discipline not a punishment. Don’t use the biblical discipline of fasting to ease your guilt or need to punish poor behavior.
- Model fasting. Kids learn more from what they see than what they simply hear. When teaching the discipline of fasting, know that you can’t lead kids to do something that you’re not willing to do yourself.
- Don’t sell kids short. While the practice and understanding of biblical fasting will be best suited for older kids, teaching and allowing kids to participate in age-appropriate ways will lay foundations for deeper and more meaningful experiences in the future.
Obviously, there are physical issues and limitations to consider and, quite frankly, fasting may not be for everyone — especially children. You may want to check with a doctor before beginning a fast from food. But ultimately, one may not be able to think of a reason why we would ignore teaching about fasting and at some level help kids understand, through experience, short and intentional opportunities to practice what people from the holy books practiced.