Last week I shared part of an interview with Brenda Nixon, author of the “Birth to Five” book, a great reference for rearing a preschool child.
Granted, it’s important to start teaching and training a preschool child as early as possible. Some teaching, like potty training or eating habits, is a "Well, duh!" But studies have shown how important it is to give our little ones lots of discovery and exploration time in building their gross and fine motor skills, to introduce them to books and music and art, to give them math based problem solving questions within the scope of play.
But what about their spiritual development? When is a child ready to learn about God – and how much are they ready for? Brenda shares her insights with us this week.
Karen: In your book, you have a chapter on the development of a child’s faith. When should a parent start teaching their child about God?
Brenda: Parents teach from day one! But the "teaching" must be age-appropriate and natural. Just think; when Mom immediately responds to her crying infant with love and nurture. She is already teaching her baby that parents are trustworthy. As the infant ages, and Mom and Dad set rules, boundaries, and limitations on behavior, they're teaching that parents love enough to discipline. When a tot falls down and parents say, "ouwie," they teach empathy. Are these not the qualities of God?
Then, around the age of three - when preschoolers begin to understand concepts like friendship, trust, love, empathy - parents can begin talking about God and how He cares for them in these ways.
Oh, one caution; be careful about too broad of concepts such as sin and redemption, which can still confuse some adults.
Teaching a tot about God isn't limited to reading scripture, teaching a hymn, or telling a Bible story. It's being the parent who expresses relationship with God. Hopefully, we (and I include myself) create a thirst in our kids for relationship with the only Perfect Parent.
Karen: What are some ways parents can incorporate teaching about God into the everyday flow of family life?
Brenda: To answer this question, I'll quote from one chapter in The Birth to Five Book. "As the parent of a tender, impressionable child, you have multiple occasions to teach your child about God. It’s sobering to realize that from birth to 18-years – when he graduates – 85 percent of a child’s waking, learning hours are spent in the home. The home, not the school, is a child’s major class and parents are the first and most important teachers…
Around your home, place visible reminders that testify to your faith in God. I remember the bronze cast of praying hands Mom and Dad had for years in our living room. The well-read family Bible remains on their coffee table today. Now, as a parent, I tape up Bible verses on mirrors, the refrigerator, and even on my car visor. The ones in the car humbly remind me that my children are watching my attitudes towards other drivers. Ask yourself, “Does my home have visual symbols of my faith?”
So, again, you don't have to be perfect to be your child’s spiritual equipper. I also encourage parents to participate in regular church attendance. You want to keep your children surrounded by faith-filled people.
Karen: Since a child can’t see God and preschoolers are concrete thinkers, why should we start teaching them about God? Shouldn’t we wait until they are old enough to understand?
Brenda: Yes and no. How's that for a quick answer? We want to continually and naturally live out and verbally teach our beliefs so children absorb the lessons. If the reverse logic were applied then we wouldn't teach children about concepts such as love or safety until they were in elementary school.
Karen: As you said in your article, “Make Your Child Thirsty...for God,” parents are the primary source of spiritual education. How can a child’s Sunday School or Worship teacher be more helpful in equipping parents or partnering with parents to do this important job?
Brenda: For the Sunday School teacher or children's pastor, I say, remind parents that their participation in church sends a message to their children. It’s a message that they value their community of faith. Church attendance must become a habit of the heart. Encourage parents of your church children to daily teach about our Heavenly Father as commanded in the sixth chapter of Deuteronomy.
Urge parents to weave spiritual lessons into conversations, letters, chores and actions with their kids. Children need to see their parents living out their faith through practices such as; thanking God for nature, reading the Bible, and saying grace before meals. And, of course, I encourage valued teachers to fervently pray for parents and homes today.