A soon-to-be first-time mommy asked me a very good question today: How did I teach Abigail about God? I've written some parenting advice before, and I don't know if it helped anyone, but I thought I would share what has worked for us. I don't claim to know everything, and I would love to hear other good ideas from experienced parents, especially those who have kids older than Abigail (I could use some good advice, too:)! But here is what I think.
First, I think the most important thing to know in order to teach your child about God is this: know what you believe, and why you believe it. We can only truly teach what we know and understand. I can't teach calculus because I don't know and understand calculus, but I could teach nursing because I know and understand nursing. It is the same with your religious beliefs. You need to know what you believe and why you believe it. This will prepare you to answer those interesting and tough questions that kids ask. Sure, we will all have moments when we honestly don't know (Momma, why did God choose me to be a big sister but not choose me to be a little sister?) and that is okay. (My response to these questions is "I don't know, but you can ask God. Would you like to pray about that and ask Him to show you why He made that choice?) But for the most part, we do actually have a lot of questions that we can answer, if we take the time to really examine what we believe.
For instance, I strongly believe that I need to teach my daughter how to make good decisions. My job is not to teach her to follow a set of rules dictated by me, the Church, her school, or the government. Yes, she needs to follow the rules, and I am teaching her that, but my real job is to teach her how to make decisions when there is no one else telling her what to do (ie- how to be a grown up.) I need to teach her how to decide what to do when there is no black and white, when there is no clear-cut right and wrong; most of life is shades of gray and very little of live is obviously wrong or right. In trying to teach her this, I not only teach her rules (don't lie, don't hit) but I teach her why she shouldn't do those things. We don't lie because it makes God sad when we lie; we don't hit because when we hit people, it hurts them, and Jesus wants us to be kind to each other and love each other, not hurt each other. But the only way I can teach her they "why" behind the rule is if I know it myself. I need to know what I believe, and why I believe it.
Secondly, beyond knowing right and wrong, beyond knowing what you believe about God, you need to live it out. For instance, you can tell your kids to eat their vegetables until you are blue in the face, but if you don't eat your vegetables, your kids will not believe it is important. You need to set the example and make God real and tangible in your own life so that they can see that God can be real and tangible in their life.
Recently I was having some car difficulties. One morning, the car just wouldn't start. I was upset and frustrated, and I knew Abigail was watching me intently from her car seat in the back seat. I stopped and asked her if she would pray with me that God would help our car to work. We did just that, and on the next try, the car started! We thanked God for helping us. Later that day, Abigail couldn't find a very special toy. She was upset and frustrated, but rather than throwing a fit, she came to me and asked if we could pray that God would help her find her toy. We did pray, and within a few minutes, she found her toy. When she found it, she excitedly hollered, "Momma, God helped me find my toy! Thanks God!" Did God cause my car to start or her to find her toy? Maybe, maybe not. But the point is that Abigail understands that you can go to God with all of your concerns, and He listens and helps you. I set an example to her of a living, active, interactive God, and she follows that example. As the scripture says, talk about the things of God from the moment you wake up to the moment you return to bed!
Third, keep in mind that you can't do it for them. Faith is a very personal thing, and you can't create faith within your child. However, you can foster faith and help it grow. By having a mindset that recognizes God's role in giving us good gifts, providing for us, loving us, and leading us, we can, as parents, nurture faith in our children. When we speak to our child about how God answered their prayer, we are showing our faith, and helping them to develop faith. We can't make them have faith, but we can help them understand what faith is. In our house, Abigail and I talk about her bedtime prayers before she prays. We talk about what she wants to pray about (her sister, the orphans around the world (and the cat orphans), our family) and then we talk about what we want to thank God for. During this time, I try to point out the ways that God has answered her prayers, especially in those practical, day-to-day ways that matter to a child.
Finally, you weren't meant to do this alone. Teaching your child about God is a tall order. There are lots of supports for you. The church is a big area of support. When your child has a lesson in the nursery or their children's ministry, take the time to learn about what the lesson was, and what the teachers taught. Then reinforce the lesson in the car on the way home from church. Leave their art project on your dashboard as a reminder to talk about their lesson the next time you are driving to the grocery. Remind them throughout the week about the things they learned about God. (Especially when kids are very young, their lessons are usually "God loves you and wants to help you when you are scared" and such. There are lots of everyday opportunities to reinforce that idea.)
Abigail loves to listen (and dance!) to music, so I am glad to have a few VegeTales CDs and a few CDs of children's praise and worship songs. We often sing together in the car, and talk about the lyrics. We have a few VegeTales DVDs, and some Adventures in Oddessy CDs that share stories with a Biblical theme. I think for kids, the best thing you can do is make God "approachable." These DVDs and CDs really do that for kids. For younger children (infant to 6), I really like the book "The Bible in Pictures for Little Eyes." (Check it out- you will love it!) The Christian bookstore is another great resource to help find things that will engage your child while also teaching them about God. Find what works for your kid. (Here is an idea for little boys, and one for little girls.) The Adam Raccoon books are great stories and teach about God. Kids are never too young to hear the great stories of God's faithfulness and love!
I would love to hear your thoughts! What has worked for you?