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
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
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
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.
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.
(Birth to One Year)
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
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
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.
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!
(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
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.
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
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.
(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
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
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 email@example.com.