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Practical ways to teach your toddler the Examen

By Katie Lacz

As my toddler gets older, I’m excited for him to get to know the things I love best about Ignatian spirituality: finding God in all things. Seeking the magis. Discernment of spirits. The Examen.

At this point, I get that words like “consolation” and “desolation” might not mean a whole lot to a two-year-old. At the same time, he knows the joy of running up and down the grassy hill in his grandparents’ backyard on a sunny day. And he has felt the frustration of not having his way, of feeling like nothing is going the way he expected or wanted it to. And those little moments are tastes of those concepts, steps along the path to noticing more deeply the God who already suffuses his days with love.

San Antonio site visit 2015

I’ve been thinking about how to help him notice, deliberately. And what is the Examen if not an opportunity to walk back through our day and notice? To notice God or notice where we didn’t feel close to God. Similarly, to notice the gifts we experienced and the moments of difficulty or darkness we faced. I’m trying to think through how to bring this down to a toddler level. I want to make it natural to look back on the day with a sense of gratitude, awareness, and hope. (I’m not the only one, it turns out – a dear friend is working on a children’s book that looks at the same thing.)

The gift of this process is that it forces me to simplify what I can often make complicated. Essentially, the Examen does five things: Invite God to help you look at your day; express gratitude; look over the day; face any failings in that day; and look with hope towards the future.

What might the Examen look like with a toddler?

  • Invitation: A short, “God, help us to look back at what we did today.” Or, “God, help us to notice how you were with us today” can begin a brief time of prayer.
  • Gratitude: Ask your little one, “What was something great that happened today?”
  • Review: Talk about what else you did today – friends you saw, food you ate, experiences you had. All of it matters to God (and to us as parents!).
  • Failings/Hard things: Ask your toddler what was difficult about today. Perhaps there’s something they wish had been different in how they acted or how someone acted towards them. If the answer is something simple like not being able to play with a toy, that’s OK. This is all about learning to notice.
  • Hope: What’s something they hope for tomorrow? Can they tell God and let God be excited with them about it?
Most importantly, making this a time that feels safe, special, and loving and inviting. Allow the conversation to go where it will, because there’s no need to force it. God is present in this bond you are sharing and deepening with your little one. God knows that my best-laid plans to do something (anything) specific with my toddler often go awry, and it’s OK if this is no exception. God loves our messy attempts, and we can model that same love to our toddlers in this process.

Katie served as a Jesuit Volunteer in Raleigh, North Carolina in 2006. She holds a BA in Journalism from Ithaca College, and a Masters of Divinity from the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley.  She currently lives in Colorado with their family. Katie also maintains her own blog at Pure Buttermilk.



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