The concept of guardian angels is difficult enough for adults to grasp, so it’s unsurprising that these supernatural beings often get reduced to a sort of heavenly Tooth Fairy when explained to children. Angels are much more than some kind of God-given imaginary friends, so it’s important to teach our families the difference between cute childhood illusions and real-life divine warriors.
Here are three simple ways to provide kids with a solid foundation for understanding this abstract spiritual reality.
1. Talk openly, honestly and frequently about angels, both in “real life” and when you’re playing.
Some things, like dragons, exist only in our imaginations and are frequent visitors when at play. But angels are not the stuff of fairy tales, so they should come up in daily life, even when playtime is over.
I remember once when I was about four years old, I was carrying the family rock collection into the den to explore with my mom when I slipped and tumbled down down the wooden stairs. Mom quickly scooped me up from the floor amidst the scattered (and, for the fragile ones, broken) rock samples and rocked me until I stopped crying. I was startled by the fall, worried that I’d be in trouble for breaking some of the pieces, and in pain, so I was enraged when mom cooed that we should be “grateful” that it “wasn’t worse.” Mom explained that my guardian angel must have “lifted you up and carried you down the stairs” since, all things considered, a fall down hard steps with rock shards everywhere could have meant stitches. I remember being amazed that an angel would have given me such personal attention and that my mom trusted so completely in something we couldn’t see.
Years later, her words stick in my mind every time I experience a close call.
We must make a point to talk to our children about angels when things go the way we want, but especially when they don’t (a good spiritual habit to attain in any case). We know from the Bible that angels are sent to “minister” to us and support us as we strive for Heaven, so we can be assured they pray for us constantly and are always seeking what’s best for us.
2. Use familiar images to explain the concept of angels, but always distinguish between fantasy and reality.
When you think about it, angels are just real-life superheros. They’re on a mission to protect us from (very real) evil and harm, and along they way they can help us become the people God created us to be. They have some pretty sweet superpowers, including but not limited to: invisibility, being in more than one place at a time, shape-shifting, and even super speed. Except, again, this is all real life.
Iron Man and Wonder Woman exist only in books, but our guardian angels follow us to school and pray for us at Mass. We can’t see them, but like the wind, we can see the work they do around us.
While that’s just one example of a simplified explanation of complex divine mysteries, what an engaging foundation to build on!
3. Make the presence of angels concrete for your kids.
While angels are purely spirits and don’t naturally have bodies, use the physical world to remind your family of the spiritual realities! There are lots of fun ways to create little traditions to help drive this concept home. Consider…
- Setting an extra spot at the dinner table for the guardian angels.
- Pick a name for your own guardian angel and help your child pick one for hers. This helps make them a more concrete, relatable reality! (Don’t worry if your kid picks some really ridiculous name, as long as she’s being sincere. God has already named all his creation, so this is just a nickname to use until we meet our angelic friends in heaven!)
- Say the guardian angel prayer first thing when you get in the car and before you put the kids to bed.
- Bless your children — especially older ones — before they leave the house, and explicitly invoke the intercession of their guardian angel (by name, if you’ve picked one!). One of the few blessings laypeople can bestow is upon their children. Pause at the door, take their hands in yours and pray something along these lines: “May God’s angels guide you and guard you today and always.”
- On the Feast of the Guardian Angels, throw a little party! It doesn’t have to be much…maybe a special meal, get balloons or celebrate with a treat. Make a point to pray to the angel of each member of the family and thank them for all of their hard work. Thank God for giving them to you!
Of course, as the kids age, be sure to continue to form and educate them on divine realities so their understanding of angels continues to mature. Gradually fade out more childish reminders of angels (like extra places at the table) for ones that will serve them well as adults.
— Forest Hempen
Marketing and Communication Associate