Think fast!

Can’t tell if this is fast sunday or open mic day

I’ve got four kids, and two of them will get baptized in 2014. [1] I’m wondering at what point it would be appropriate to teach them about fasting and to introduce them to the practice. Starving your kids? Where do I sign up!!

Some data points that might be helpful. First, I guess I’m not really looking to assemble a scrapbook of ideas here. The Church has lots of awesome articles about teaching young’uns to fast, for example this one, which is perfectly adequate but not exactly a happy-friendly starting point for little kids. Instead I’m just bouncing some ideas around and mostly want to see whether this would work. Second, my wife is hypoglycemic [2] and I’ve never seen her fast. Third, I enjoy fasting because take that, body! but later that day after I gorge myself on roast beast my body is all, who’s the boss now? [3], which is my way of saying that I’m not particularly good at fasting either and my kids have suffered because they have not had the good example of noble fasting which they deserved. Third, one of my kids is probably hypoglycemic [4] and behaviorally it would be a complete disaster if that kid skipped a meal. Fourth, my kids are already failing to thrive and deliberately skipping meals would definitely not be recommended by their pediatrician [5].

So, I guess what I was planning on being a little more in fasting, or at least explaining to my kids what I’m doing. Then maybe over time introducing them to the prospect. I sure am not looking forward to ever forcing a fast on them, but it could happen. I don’t have much of a plan, but it seems to me that fasting is a pretty prominent feature of membership and I think they deserve to know it and understand it before they get baptized. [6] Thoughts?

[1] insh’allah
[2] Not really, but she says she “could be” and hates fasting. I’m not calling her a liar.
[3] Judith Light.
[4] Unlike some people in my family, this kid is probably a legitimate hypoglycemic.
[5] I’m not sure a pediatrician would ever recommend fasting for a non-adult. Some doctors recommend periodic fasting for some adults.
[6] Now I just need a game plan for telling them about this thing called Stake Conference.


  1. Ok, I have to preface this by saying I’m totally a salad bar Mormon, and I’m all about tailoring the commandments to make them more convenient for me. Just kidding. Sort of. But I actually DO have blood sugar issues, and I’ve spent about five of the last years either pregnant or nursing a baby. None of these things are conducive to fasting.

    I hate fasting, but I also find that it actually IS an important spiritual concept, so I hate to completely miss out. So, I find ways to make it work for me. Mostly, I switch to a juice diet on fast Sundays. It’s enough for me to be able to say, “Take that, body!” but not enough for my body to tell me who is boss.

    As for the issue of kids fasting, I sort of look at it the way I look at all of the commandments. Is it ever really a good idea to force them to keep any of them? I have a ten-year-old, and I doubt he has ever fasted yet. I doubt he will go to hell for it. We keep teaching him about it, and I assume that one day he will gain a testimony of it, just like he has about everything else, but forced fasts for kids who don’t have the mental complexity to understand why fasting is spiritually important has always seemed wrong to me. When he gets it, I think he’ll do it.

  2. I don’t know if this would work for your kids, but we sometimes do a Lent-like fast (depending on circumstances) where we ask the kids to fast from something like sweets or a favorite food. You could extend this to whatever you think would help them feel like they are fasting.

  3. The way it worked for us.

    1. Child turned 8.
    2. A month later she asked me if I wanted breakfast on fast sunday. I said no, I was fasting.
    3. She said “what’s that”. We told her about it and how we use the money to help the poor.
    4. She started fasting for one meal a day and asking every sunday if it was fast sunday.
    5. Child turned 10, decided she would do two meals.

    Mileage may vary

  4. My parents were hard core about forcing us to fast, and I remember at age 9 sneaking a package of Smarties and eating 3 of them hunched in a corner in the bathroom so nobody knew what a weak faster I was. And I was a kid who used to play “British Navy Stranded at Sea” parceling out my Oreos and treats while we huddled in our make believe ship, hoping for rescue before cannibalism would become necessary while one by one my ship-mates would succumb to starvation. So, I enjoyed a bit of self-mastery. Or else I had an eating disorder in embryo. Tomato, tom-ah-to.

    I’m not any sort of a disciplinarian when it comes to my own kids. 8 years old is simply too young to fast, IMO, and I don’t want to find any of my kids in a self-loathing rabid fever squirreling away candy to eat in secret. Pre-pubescence is also too young and a critical time for growth, and what about the teen years when they can’t go more than 5 minutes without complaining they are starving? Instead, I suggest they try a “light” version (although they are able to opt out at their own discretion at any time). I suggest they just skip breakfast, but then say and prayer and eat after church. If they don’t want to do that, they can get themselves cereal or toast since I’m fasting.

    I also discovered that some other faiths that fast allow drinking of water or teas, juices and fruits while “fasting,” so that’s another way to do something symbolic without making their and your life sheer hell. My 11 year old is frightening when she hasn’t eaten. I wouldn’t want to be stranded at sea with her. She would definitely be the sole survivor.

  5. I also have a child for whom skipping meals is/would be disastrous/dangerous. I haven’t figured out a solid answer, but the concept of giving something up that he likes is one we’re working on. Individual circumstances require adaptation, which you clearly understand- but teaching a kid “take that, body!” when the body is already somewhat hostile a non-starter. For us, giving up his iPod for the day is a sacrifice. I guess I’m really bad at this, even though I can attest to the power of communal fasting.

  6. Well,generally speaking I think we fast incorrectly. Fasting is a lifestyle, not a once a month requirement. It’s a lifestyle of caring for the poor and sharing what you have so that no one goes hungry. We do this to a minor extent on Fast Sundays but what we do is often so disconnected from the real act of relieving suffering that for most church members, it’s little more than going hungry and writing a check. Then twice a year, if we’re lucky,we get to listen to someone tell us from the pulpit at General Conference about the wonderful experiences THEY have had with our donations, visiting starving people in Africa. I’m not suggesting our monthly fasts aren’t worthwhile, I’m suggesting that for most of us, they aren’t life and heart changing experiences because we are so isolated from our minor act of charity.

    If I were going to teach my children about fasting (again), I’d use Isaiah 58 as a guide and then talk about Jesus’ instruction to give away our coat any time we have two and see another shivering. I’d talk about how in the early church, it was considered stealing to have extra while someone else went without. I’d talk about the small ways that even a child can both show gratitude for what they have and be a good steward so that the entire family has more to give to those who are worse off. Everything from refusing to waste water while they brush teeth, to eating gratefully whatever is served, to happily accepting hand-me-downs, to learning to carpool to activities, to taking care of parks, schools, homes, and church buildings. And I would explain that our communal monthly fast is a sacrament, not the fulfilling of the covenant, but a token and reminder of how we are to live every other day of the month..

    Of course, as a parent, you have to be ready to drive to Goodwill to buy your child a new coat when he/she catches the spirit and gives his/hers away…

    But it’s well worth the price.

  7. joshua24x15 says:

    PS I’m all for letting them choose when they are ready to skip meals. If the day and accompanying sacrament are meaningful to you, at some point, they will want to know why. And then you share your experience of fasting and will give them the gift of grappling with their own conscience over the principle. They will be better for it.

  8. Jack Hughes says:

    “Enjoy your breakfast, son. Because you forgot it was Fast Sunday, and now somewhere in the world a poor person is going to starve to death. That’s right, you killed him!…no, no, you keep eating, and think about what you have done…”

  9. Jack Hughes says:

    My point is, fasting for kids should be voluntary, and NOT guilt-induced. I grew up thinking of fasting as some kind of religious self-flagellation/deprivation exercise, and never really got on board with it. Even today I usually avoid it. This is a great opportunity to teach kids about Christlike charity, sacrifice, assisting the needy, and thinking beyond themselves–an opportunity that is often lost.

  10. Eight years old, the children begin fasting one meal on Fast Sundays. Twelve years old, and they’re considered adults, and begin fasting both meals. Neither Melissa or I find the discipline of fasting particularly rewarding in a spiritual sense, but we consider it like church attendance: a duty of membership, and thus make it obligatory upon all family members. It’s worked so far.

  11. I think we focus too much on the meal skipping and far to little on the prayer part and the sharing a testimony part and the service to others part and the self discipline part and even the Joy part (D&C 59:13). Why not focus on the other parts in your teaching with the meal skipping being a minor aspect – maybe no snacks on fast Sunday and build from there – but making the focus the spiritual side of fasting and prayer.

  12. We should also remember that fasting is good for us physically as well as spiritually. But I would not want to force a young child to fast before they are able to understand the concept.

  13. Coffinberry says:

    Something between Matt and RAF is how we taught our four. Of course, once in a while, a kid comes along (or a life experience) that makes an indelible impression on your experience of the fast.
    Though I happen to know that the child involved was a six year old first grader, notice that the editors of the Friend set this story apart as for older kids only.

  14. Here’s a very interesting RadioLab program that says boys 9-12 who nearly starved had kids and grandkids with much better health.

    Fasting was always a choice for me as a kid, although my mom encouraged it once we turned 8. I really liked it as a teenager, but now that I’m grown I have a really hard time with it. I get awful headaches that don’t go away after I’ve eaten and had some ibuprofen–I have to sleep for a couple hours to make them go away. Currently I need to be able to drive the half hour home from church, so I don’t fast in a traditional manner.

    Sometimes I’ve chosen specific fast-Sunday meals (if it was fast Sunday, I had to have oatmeal for breakfast, no other choices). Sometimes I’ve chosen to fast from something other than food (blogs, Facebook, the whole internet).

  15. We start the fast of one meal at age 8 and two meals at age 12. So far it’s been okay. My youngest son has decided that his lunch now starts at 10am on these days. We were ok with it because he had just turned 8 and he needed to build up his stamina for it. Plus, it gives him a measure of control. He wakes up about 7am so he made it 3 whole hours! Last month, I ‘strongly encouraged’ him to try to make it longer since he’s almost 8 and a half. He made it to about 10:30ish. Baby steps…

    When my kids are sneaking food, I don’t come down on them and just tell them to include in their fasting prayers for Heavenly Father to help them make it through the fast. I praise even an extra 5 minutes of time. The best part is to watch their fasting be all about them for many years and then as they mature into teenagers and it turns into fasting for other people. Actually, my kids always do much better on those fasts when someone is sick or in need of their prayers.

    As a parent, hearing your kids crying for food and not providing it is one of the hardest things ever! When I see a fellow mom driving her growing teenage boy to get some food during S.S. because he can’t handle it anymore, I completely get that innate desire to take care of them.
    I often remind myself of how blessed I am that I have the food and can feed my children and it will be over soon…although it doesn’t feel soon. It has made me have such empathy for mothers & fathers who hear their children cry for food and they have no food at the end of the day to give them. I remind my children of this lesson after their tummies are full. It is much more real for them and how hard that would be if this was everyday and there was no big meal at the end. For that reason, the paying of fast offerings is absolutely the easiest part of Fast Sunday for me. The going without food or “starving!” as my daughter would say, not so much….

    My husband takes a page from Bill Watterson of Calvin & Hobbes fame and always tells my children that it “builds character”. You can imagine how much they love hearing that.

    Bonus: whatever food your children refuse to eat during the month is what we whip out post fasting…along with the roast beast!

  16. I’m just pleased to see the term “roast beast.” What is the etymology of this? My dad always called pot roast “roast beast” and I thought it was so funny as a kid. I also thought he was the only one who said that.

    But yes, not sure how I’m going to approach the fasting issue with my kids.

  17. Jack Hughes says:

    Other Bridget–
    as to the origin of “roast beast”, I take it you are not familiar with the works of Theodor Geisel.

  18. Hmm, well now I think my dad came up with it independently of The Grinch. We were more of a One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish family. I don’t know, maybe I’ll go ask my dad.

  19. J. Stapley says:

    Thanks Steve. I’ve not done well on this issue, so I appreciate the discussion.

  20. sidebottom says:

    Our four kids are held to a one-and-a-half meal fast starting at age 8 – skip breakfast and lunch but eat dinner earlyish (usually before 4 pm).

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