When my daughter was an infant, I used to put her in the stroller and take long walks around our neighborhood. Looking back, I am sure people driving by probably thought I was a little strange, as I talked to her constantly the entire time. Whether I was pointing out things for her to notice or telling her stories about what we would do later, she heard constant chatter.
Studies have shown talking to infants makes a huge difference in their intellectual growth. By the age of two years, babies who had been spoken to a lot by their parents were up to six months developmentally ahead of children who heard little conversation from their parents. (Guardian Feb. 14, 2014, Ian Sample) In fact, according to Mr. Sample, Professor Erika Hoff stated, “Children cannot learn what they don’t hear.”
What a powerful thought! Our children cannot learn what they don’t hear. Even more importantly, the article quoted experts as saying television and iPhones were no substitute for adults talking to their children about things they might find interesting. Healthy language and intellectual development were dependent on direct, focused, parental involvement.
What if we applied educational science to spiritual education? How would this information apply to teaching our children about God? What things would we need to do to make sure our children were learning about God in the best possible ways? What if we were as concerned about our child’s spiritual development as we are about their language development?
After pondering the idea for awhile, here are some thoughts:
- Speak to even infants about God constantly. If constantly talking with our children speeds their language development and intellectual growth, what would constant exposure to spiritual talk do for them? What if they constantly heard about the love God has for us, the love we are to have for God and others, etc.? What a head start our children would have on their spiritual development!
- Don’t depend on other things to take the place of a parent in spiritual development. If televisions and iPhones don’t help the development of language (in fact some thought they actually hurt it), I doubt they do much for our child’s spiritual growth either. Don’t get me wrong. If your child is going to be in front of a screen, I would rather it be godly than not, but a screen will never take your place. Don’t abdicate your responsibility or your joy to a screen.
- Quality is important. Studies constantly support the idea that silly nonsense babble does not help a child’s language development as much as speaking normal words. Young children need accurate input to develop properly. Be careful when you talk to your little ones about God. Simplifying the information is fine as long as it is accurate. No, you probably don’t want to quote a King James version long passage, but make sure the facts and words are correct. It is amazing how many strange ideas children carry around about things in the Bible because they were told something inaccurate by someone along the way.
- Direct, focused, parental involvement is essential for your child’s healthy spiritual development. Can other people help your child grow spiritually? Absolutely, but studies and surveys have shown time and time again the biggest influence on any child is his or her parents. The more focused and involved you are in the spiritual development of your child, the more likely it is that he or she will grow up to become a devoted Christian. God commanded so much parental involvement in spiritual training (Deuteronomy 6) because He knows it works.
Your child will eventually make his or her own decisions about God. Your children will also eventually make decisions about whether or not they will continue to use language to communicate with others. Most parents will do everything they can to make sure their children succeed academically. My hope and prayer is that more parents will begin to put as much emphasis on the spiritual development of their children. Let’s give them the tools to make wise decisions.