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 (Manna 33: One Faith)
Planting Seeds of Faith in Preschoolers
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ARPlanting Seeds of Faith in PreschoolersRecognizing and realizing your role as nurturer and model for your children's spiritual growthYour children's spiritual needs must be nurtured and cared for from birth. Even while a child is still in the womb, parents-to-be should pray that their child will grow in the Lord because God holds the ultimate outcome of a human being. As they grow, you will always be the primary role model in helping to shape his or her spiritual self. Knowing that your child is your mirror serves as an excellent incentive to constantly examine yourself and to seek God's help to better yourself.

After I had my second child, older mothers (sometimes complete strangers) often came up to me and volunteered their advice, as if I somehow had a sign on my forehead that read: "Help! I don't know what I'm doing!" They would tell me how to keep the baby's legs straight, what to do about rashes, where to live to get into the best school district, and so on. Thankfully, I often gained useful information and sometimes even profound insight from these interactions.

Most parents are very concerned about the physical, educational, and emotional aspects of their children's lives. But as I become more comfortable with meeting these needs for my young children, I am becoming more concerned about the nonphysical aspects of their development: in particular, their spiritual well-being. It is important that parents of young children, particularly preschool children, do all they can to help with their children's spiritual lives.

An acquaintance who is the father of two teenagers deeply impressed me with his conviction to raise God-fearing children. He said that he would feel that he had done his job as a parent if his children remained faithful to the Lord all of their lives.

When I think about the role of the parents in a child's spiritual development, I like the analogy of planting a fruit tree from a seedling. The germination period (the period before the seed sprouts) is a critical stage for growing good plants.

Similarly, a child's spiritual life before formal schooling sets the stage for future development. It is true that ultimately it is God who gives the increase (1 Cor 3:7). Nevertheless, without the parents' purposeful sowing and faithful watering, there would be no plants at all, much less fruits. Therefore, let's take this opportunity to examine the things that parents can do to plant seeds of faith in preschoolers.

First, let's take a look at what the Bible says about the role of parents in their children's life of faith. From the beginning, God chose Abraham to propagate the earth with godly people (Gen 17:7-8).

God had commanded His people, the Israelites, to teach His laws to their children so that they would seek God and prosper (Deut 6:7-8, 20-25). In addition, we can attribute the success of a number of biblical characters to their unwavering faith, even in their youth.

Godly men like Joseph, Daniel, Samuel, and Timothy all showed faithfulness at an early age. Even though the Bible does not specifically tell us what the parents did when their children were young, it appears that at least the mothers of Samuel and Timothy took active roles in their sons' spiritual lives (1 Sam 1:28; 2; Tim 1:5; 3:15).

God has given us the natural instinct to love our children, and we want to give them the best things in life. And there is nothing better than having God Himself as one's personal Friend, Protector, and Savior (Jn 15:15; Ps 71:6; 84:11; Acts 4:12).

Planting The Seeds

With what I have gathered from various sources, I would like to suggest some principles that I believe are helpful in building seeds of faith in preschoolers ages five and under. While I will recommend some practices as reference, please keep in mind that individuals respond differently to the same event, so flexibility and creativity are necessary for this important task.

Prenatal

In addition to prenatal care and vitamins, I consider prayer to be the most essential element for an unborn child. Every adult is the product of both nature and nurture. Normally, parents are responsible for nurturing their children and providing them with the best environment possible. However, parents have absolutely no control over the nature of their children--temperament, intelligence, health, or physical characteristics. Therefore, in order to increase the probability of a "good seed," it is wise for parents-to-be to pray to the Creator of all life (Neh 9:6; Ps 100:3; 139:15; Jer 1:5).

During both of my pregnancies, my husband and I prayed that God would grant us faithful children who would obey Him with all their hearts, and we prayed that if He so willed, He would give them the necessary gifts to help with the Lord's work. We would rather have an "average" child who had the heart to please God than a child who excelled in every aspect but was far away from Him.

We believe that as long as God is with our children, everything else will be so much easier to handle. After all, our children are God's property who are under our temporary care (Ps 127:3; 1 Pet 4:10). It is helpful for us to have this understanding even before the arrival of our children.

Infants (Birth to One Year)

Although babies appear to do little, they can actually absorb much information at this stage. While at home, include your infant in as many daily activities as possible so that they will learn that God is in every part of our lives. For example, say a short prayer before each feeding, sing easy Bible songs throughout the day, and pray as a family before bedtime. All of these physical activities may mean nothing to your infant for a while, but before long, they will inherit the good habits that you have established for them.

Babies cannot actively participate in spiritual activities because of their limited abilities. Nevertheless, parents are responsible for bringing them before the presence of God, even though babies do not know how to worship God yet. You may find it rather cumbersome to bring your infant to church or family services because of all the baby gear and the hassle of feeding, changing, and sleeping routines. But take heart, because going to church or family services will get easier as you and the baby get more used to the routine.

First, give yourself plenty of time (at least an hour and a half) to get ready. Be prepared for that unexpected diaper change or spill just when you are about to step out the door (which seems to happen about eighty percent of the time).

Second, bring more stuff than you need, especially you are attending Sabbath services for the entire day and you live some distance away from the church. Bring extra clothing, blankets, diapers, wipes, pacifiers, formula, toys--extra everything. You may want to pack your baby's essentials the day before so that you won't forget anything. I still remember the trauma of forgetting to bring a pacifier to church and frantically trying to quiet a tired and fussy newborn. I ended up running to the nearest market and buying another pacifier, while I already had four new ones at home.

Third, once at church, try to be as much a part of the congregation as possible without being too much of a distraction. In the best circumstances, the church will either have a separate room adjacent to the chapel where you can sit, or at least a very understanding congregation that will tolerate all the noise that babies make.

Through extended exposure to religious services, babies will soon learn to be quiet in the service area, because their parents speak in soft voices and everyone else is quiet. They will also be more comfortable with group prayer if it has been a regular experience for them. Just last week, I brought my three-month-old to a family service, and for most of the time I stayed by the stairway so that he would not disturb the meeting if he became fussy. When it was time to pray, I debated whether or not I should take my baby to a room upstairs so the loud sound of prayer would not excite him. But I decided to pray with everyone else, and much to my relief and surprise, he fell right asleep during the prayer!

Toddlers (One to Two Years)

This may be a trying period for parents and a confusing period for toddlers, as they are no longer babies, but not yet children. With increased mobility and ability to communicate, toddlers begin to take on a much more active role in their daily lives. Parents may battle between wanting to shelter their new walkers from the many hazards out there, and wanting to let them test their wings.

At church. Parents seem to need some extra patience, endurance, and perhaps an extra pair of arms and legs during this period. You may have childproofed your home, but the church may have places that pose potential hazards to your curious toddler. Therefore, you may find yourself always running behind your toddler during services.

Try to bring lots of distractions to keep the little busybody occupied during the service. If your church does not have a separate room for parents and their young children, be sure to bring soft toys and books so that there will not be a mini percussion concert in the back while the speaker is preaching.

Invite your toddler to join in with the hymn singing and prayer, even if your child does it for only ten seconds. Never force a toddler to kneel next to you if he does not want to, because forcing only makes the toddler more defiant, and prayer then becomes a negative experience. Instead, I used to just hold my daughter while she sat on my lap as I prayed in a sitting/kneeling position. This way I made sure that my toddler was with me and not getting into trouble (such as laying her hand on people's heads during prayer, as she saw the ministers doing).

At this age, toddlers are better at imitating many of the religious activities of the adults, though they still do not understand what any of the actions mean. At times, they will simply refuse to comply with you for no reason. I remember that before my daughter turned two, she went through a period refusing to bow her head to pray before meals. Then, when she was over that stage, she became the "prayer police"--ordering everyone around her to pray if she found them not praying when she wanted to.

At home. Continue all the practices you were doing when your child was younger, but slowly let your toddler become a part of them. For example, you may begin by letting your child say "amen" each time you say grace. Make a "standard conclusion" for your short prayer so that your toddler learns to say "amen" when he hears the cue word. (I always conclude my prayers with "kamsamida"--"thank God" in Korean--so that my daughter knows that immediately after this phrase she can say "amen.") Then, gradually, you can ask your toddler to repeat simple prayers after you.

Read Bible stories from a children's picture Bible. As your toddler acquires more vocabulary, invite him or her to point to the pictures and name the items in the children's Bible. Play children's Bible songs at home and during car rides while you sing along (or dance along, as my daughter likes to do sometimes).

Let your toddler have a tiny taste of what family altar is like by setting aside a time when the entire family prays together. Every night, we go through our "family ritual" at bedtime. Daddy says a prayer thanking God for the day and asking Him for a good night's sleep. Then he asks God to bless and take care of all the family members, including the grandparents and uncles and aunts (plus Tess and Sydney, my mother's two dogs--my daughter will remind Daddy if he forgets them). Then we sing the "I Love You" song from "Barney" before her bedtime story.

Preschoolers (Two and a Half to Five Years)

As your toddler slowly emerges into childhood, you will find him or her more cooperative and eager to please, in addition to having better-controlled large and small motor skills. This is the age that many parents begin to send their children to preschool.

Your child now has a wider vocabulary, and you should expect your preschooler to understand as you explain some of the biblical principles. You can now use Bible stories to apply to daily life. For example, after telling the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, you can say, "This is why we want to obey God--because He gives us what is best. And when good kids obey and do what their parents tell them, their parents give them what is best." Although God may still be a vague concept to preschoolers, they are able to relate to Jesus. They may be intrigued by the miraculous powers He possesses--that is why children at this age are crazy about super-heroes. (My three-year-old is currently under the spell of the Power Rangers.)

Most of our churches begin religious education classes with preschoolers; however, the classes may only be in the afternoons. If your church does not have some kind of class or daycare for your preschooler during morning service, you will have to continue to find ways for your child to be entertained quietly while you attend the services. In one church, the parents of all preschool children got together and organized an activities class on Sabbath mornings, since the church had regular religious education (RE) classes for preschoolers only in the afternoons. This way, the parents could take turns attending the services without distractions from their children. At the same time, the kids got to do something constructive with their peers without disturbing the services.

If your church does provide daycare or RE classes in the morning, you may feel that you can at last enjoy the Sabbath worship now that your preschool child is old enough to join the class. However, remember that the church is not responsible for your child's spirituality (or manners). Some parents have the misconception that it is the job of the church (or the RE teachers) to make their children "good." Ultimately, however, the responsibility of the child's faith and spirituality lies with the parents. Some may also expect the church to provide full-service daycare once they step into the church, but teachers find their jobs much more pleasant when parents cooperate and look for ways to help them. Talk to your child's RE teacher to learn how your preschooler is doing. Find out what your child is learning and reinforce the lessons at home.

Set The Example

Whether your child is three months old or thirteen years old, you will always be the primary role model in helping to shape his or her spiritual self. Knowing that your child is your mirror should serve as an excellent incentive to constantly examine yourself and to seek God's help to better yourself.

Children learn about God from the Bible stories you tell them, but they learn even more from observing your own relationship with your Lord and Savior. Because the relationship between your children and you is a reflection of the relationship between you and your Heavenly Father, you should be careful to build an intimate and trusting bond with your children.

In keeping your ties with your Father, do your best to keep your daily devotions, namely Bible reading and prayers, no matter how crazy things may get. When you take time to refocus on God, you will be surprised at the refreshing sense of energy and peace of mind you feel, even amidst a household of chaos. However, you may need a bit of creativity and sacrifice to achieve your goal. When you feel you just can't squeeze another fifteen minutes out of the day to read your Bible, try listening to the Bible on tape while preparing your family meal, folding the laundry, or taking a car ride. In order to find the time to pray, you may have to get up before the kids or stay up after they are in bed. Or, you might try praying while holding or wearing your baby. (Both of my babies think the sound of prayer is the best lullaby.)

Finally, have patience. Your desire to worship God uninterrupted may have to take a back seat for a while, possibly until your child learns to be independent from you for an extended period (around three years of age). But know for certain that those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy (Ps 126:5-6)!

"Family Altar" is dedicated to providing practical, biblical insight for parents who face the challenge of raising a family in today's fast-paced and variant society. Please direct comments on this article or questions about parenting to family.altar@tjc.org.

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Publisher: True Jesus Church
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