People greatly underestimate what kids are capable of learning and understanding. Even very young children can begin learning basic ideas and concepts about complex things. Unfortunately, many parents want to wait until children are older to begin exposing them to God and the Bible. Oh, they may take them to church, but often the child just ends up playing in a nursery classroom or running up and down the halls.
If you are tempted to wait until later to introduce your child to God, I encourage you to change your mind and start now. You may wonder what a small child can even understand about something as awesome and as complex as God. Yet in reality, many things about God are very basic and simple enough for even the youngest of children to understand.
Here are a few lessons you can begin teaching your child under the age of three (you will repeat them in different, more complex ways with older children and teens):
- God made everything. Take your child to the zoo or aquarium. Take her outside to look at the moon and stars. Take him out to see the rainbow and the birds looking for worms after a rain storm. When you do, make sure you tell your child about God making everything. Repeat it often. Name individual things, but then always end with “God made everything.”
- God loves us very much. When you look at God’s creation and all of its variety, tell your toddler how much God loves us to give us so many pretty things to see. As you celebrate your family, explain to your child how God loves her so much He gave her a family to love her and take care of her. When you thank God in prayers, remind your child God’s blessings are because He loves us so much.
- God wrote the Bible so we would know what He wants to say to us. Your child can’t hear God’s voice, but he can understand God wrote down the things He wants us to know. If you toddler gets a card or letter in the mail, explain that just let Grandma had some things she wanted him to know, God gave us the Bible to tell us what He wants us to know.
- We can talk to God about anything, any time and anywhere by praying. Pray in lots of different places with your toddler and about lots of different things. Make your prayers conversational as much as possible. You want your toddler to begin to understand that just like they may talk to their aunt on the phone, they can talk to God by praying. You also want them to understand they can pray anywhere they want to and God will listen.
- We make God sad when we disobey Him. When you discuss your rules and obedience in your house, bring God into the discussion. Explain how God has rules for everybody and He expects us to obey Him (even mommies and daddies). Remind your child that just like her disobedience makes you sad, God is sad when we disobey Him.
- We need to say we are sorry when we disobey God and try to be more obedient. Hopefully, you are requiring your toddler to obey your rules and he has consequences when he disobeys. Teach him he should also apologize to God for disobeying Him (about obeying your mother and father) and try to do better next time. Help him understand that just like you forgive him, God will, too.
- We go to church to worship God and show Him how much we love Him. Your child should enjoy worship, not as a place to be entertained, but as a great way to show God how much she loves Him.
- God wants us to love, serve and be kind and considerate to others. Teach your child how to live the “Golden Rule” by teaching her to have great manners, be kind to others, help others and even do toddler sized service projects and invite people to Church. Our daughter was able to say “peas and tank you” as some of her first words (and used them properly) and joined us in many service projects before she was three.
I realize a lot of these are somewhat simplified versions of very complex spiritual concepts. That is fine. Your toddler doesn’t need to understand how to build a computer or program it to play with your iPhone (not that I am condoning iPhone use by toddlers!). In the same way, he doesn’t need to understand everything about God at this point in his life. Teaching him the basics before age three though will mean God is a part of his life from before he can even remember. That can make all the difference in your Christian parenting journey.