How to help my children to examine their conscience?

Source: St. Thomas More Academy

Far from being an unhealthy introspection, the examination of conscience done with parents becomes a great means to educate, prepare fruitful confessions, and help in the progress of virtue. It establishes a spiritual intimacy between child and parents, reinforcing their authority by redirecting the daily actions towards the most common and desirable goal: pleasing God. If neglected, it leaves the child abandoned to ignorance and inconsideration, sometimes to anxiety and spiritual distress. The examination of conscience should always be followed by an act of contrition and a resolution.

Educating the conscience

The examination of conscience should always start with a prayer to the Holy Ghost. It should include not only the wrongdoings but the good actions of the day in order to thank God for them.

The sense of morality is written in the child’s heart, but the goodness or the malice of a conscient act must be explained in order to become more acute with careful considerations. Let us remember that virtues and sins are acts of the will whose most important element is the intention. The most important is therefore to promote and direct this intention: to love and serve God. It must become the reason for one’s whole life.

As a consequence, let us avoid focusing only on the social behavior neglecting to connect it with the soul of the action: the why or for whom the child is acting. Many rules of polite behavior are not just “do” or “do not” rules but should be explained as “the way we love God,” “the way we respect others,” “the way we honor the eldest,” “the charity towards the little brother”...

As mom, dad, or an eldest helps the child to examine the actions of the day, it is important (after pointing out the good which has been done, thanks be to God!) to inquire about the hidden motive of so many faults: “Why did you lie? Is it because you did not want to do it, because of laziness, because of vanity, to puff yourself up, or to avoid embarrassment?”

As the child grows and comes to understand how important it is to please, it becomes also necessary to uncover a too-frequent vanity or selfishness hidden in the motives of apparent good actions: “Did you do this to really please God first or did you do it for yourself or to look good?”

Sometimes it will be necessary, especially with anxious children, to insist on the fact that breaking the rules or being wrong was involuntary and therefore a fault but not a sin. “God is not offended when we are wrong without willing.”

On the contrary, for inconsiderate children, it might be important to help them to dwell on the consequences of their lack of attention: “You did not want to do it; it was an accident but did you see how this hurt your sister?” and following with: “What could you do now to repair?”

As the teenager grows and examines his conscience alone, it is important to repeat and illustrate with examples that “feeling is not consenting,” and that “God looks at our intentions and at our will but not so much at our body and feelings.”

Again and again, the intention must be promoted: to do my best to serve God!

Preparing fruitful confessions

It is very useful when one of the parents examines with the child the time since the last confession and writes the conclusions: “I disobeyed…, I lied to my siblings…, I have been mean to my sister.” In the beginning, it is useful to write the accusation for the child in large letters. This greatly helps the accusation inside the confessional. Little by little, the child will be invited to independently examine himself with the help of a list of sins from his missal and to write down his sins.

The examination of conscience however should be a daily practice. The family night prayer is a good moment to review the day. Dad or mom can recall the schedule of the day as everyone is invited to reflect and look at “what Jesus thinks of our actions.” The parent will point out the occasions where the bad will was witnessed, highlighting what was wrong and how bad it was to do it anyway. Part of the exercise is also to remind the child of the duties easily forgotten, which are gratitude towards God and those who helped him/her today, the prayer for the parents, the prayer to the guardian angel, and the prayer when tempted…

Sometimes it is when the parent comes to embrace the child at night that a particular examination must take place, helping to acknowledge the bad will, listening to the confidences, and telling Jesus how sorry we are, and how much we want to change. This daily examination is a great help to keep a better awareness and attention to moral life and to prepare good confessions.

Helping the progress in virtue

It is capital to always conclude the examination of conscience with an act of contrition and a resolution. The first goal of the examination is precisely the love of God. Recognizing that this love has been hurt leads to the desire to restore it. The act of contrition is expressed in a formula, but it is useful to formulate it differently sometimes in order to renew the attention on the essential points. It is about being sorry because by our bad actions we offend God who is so good. Directing the attention to Jesus on the cross is the best way to ensure perfect contrition.

It is also of most importance to direct the will of the child toward the future. “What can I do to be better, to correct the wrong, and to repair?” Sometimes, asking forgiveness or making peace with siblings should be urged even before going to bed. Some reparation of justice must be clearly identified, offering the necessary help and assistance: broken or damaged properties, reputation, respect… 

Finding a good resolution and formulating it is a very encouraging line of progress. The resolution must be something easy to do but requires a daily and frequent effort. It can be fighting against default or promoting a virtue while always reinforcing the intention of loving God through it: such as making my bed, getting out of bed right away in the morning, cleaning dishes without being asked, taking out the garbage, fighting against laziness and for the love of God, not looking at myself in the mirror…. It can be apologizing immediately after reacting (anger), correcting my lies when I realize them or making an act of charity towards people I dislike. In this last example, as often, it is important to help to identify who, when, and how.

The resolution is a great means to promote the practice of virtue. It is an open door of hope, and positive reinforcement. As it is about the future, the child is already desiring the good. The parent will remind of the importance of praying to be assisted by God in the resolution. If the morning prayer is said as a family, it is good to include a little moment of silence for recalling the personal resolution and entrusting it to the saint of the day. This resolution should also be mentioned during the thanksgiving after Holy Communion. At the next examination of conscience, the resolution taken previously should be examined and if needed, readjusted.


Examining the conscience is a great and traditional practice. By helping their children acquire this daily habit, parents initiate and guide them in spiritual combat. Assisted by the grace that God promised to provide them, they will get a better knowledge of their children, will be inspired and encouraged in their own struggles, and will realize what they have been called to be: educators for eternity.