When Anne-with-an-e was much younger, she was very sensitive. A picture of Jesus on the Cross could reduce her to tears. Singing certain hymns would leave her spent. The idea of forty days of sorrowful mysteries drained her. I sometimes wondered how someone so little could feel things so deeply.
Lent became a difficult time.
I, being an enthusiastic convert, looked forward to doing everything I could during Lent to challenge myself. But, I realized that my vision of Lent and the Lent I needed to provide for my tenderhearted daughter were two different things.
In a way, it was humbling to create a "more relaxed Lent," if I can call it that, than I had previously practiced, but that's what I needed to do. I pulled back, I stopped trying to do things such as Stations of the Cross for children. Anne just couldn't take it; it broke her heart.
One might argue that our Lord's crucifixion is supposed to break our hearts. Yes, it is. It does. But, a soul in formation has to be handled with the utmost care, and I knew that forcing certain practices on this child would not help her to love God more, and it may even have the opposite effect. Clearly, that was not my vision for teaching my child about how fabulous Jesus was.
All of the usual "Lent with Children" practices were good: baking pretzels, putting cottonballs on the Lamb, putting beans in the sacrifice jar for kindnesses and unselfish actions. But anything too raw, too harsh, too weepy, was just plain too hard. (And remember, Holy Mother Church doesn't technically require our children to abstain from meat on Fridays and fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday until they are fourteen years old.)
As Anne grew, our practices slowly grew and changed, too. Things that were once too hard are handled now, and I see an extremely sensitive child growing into a beautifully sensitive and perceptive young lady. Now in her teens, Anne chose her own penance for this Lent (and it's something she really loves, so I do believe she's challenging herself) and she also chose to take on a devotion that I hadn't even suggested.
I don't mean to suggest that Lent should be watered down. I offer all of this only to help anyone out there who has found that Lent is "just too much" for their sensitive child. You're not alone, and I can almost assure you that "pulling back" or "taking it easy" or tailoring Lenten practices to make them work for your particular child in your particular situation is not necessarily a compromise. In your case, it's sensitive parenting, and it can bear lovely fruit.
And, the beauty of the Catholic Church's teaching (that the parent is the first educator in a child's life) means that we can and should make careful, prudent decisions about these sorts of things.
Every house, every child, every soul is different.
So is every Lent.
At least, that's been the experience at our house.
"In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity."
(Thanks, Fr. H., for tracking down the origin of that expression.)