What’s the number one excuse Christian parents give for not teaching their kids about God at home? I haven’t done an official survey, but I am almost positive the answer would be lack of time. Yet some of the busiest parents I know find ways to teach their kids about God daily. They may not have extra hours in their day, but they have learned how to use some hidden time wisely and point their kids to God even on the busiest of days.
Where are these little nuggets of time you can use to teach your kids about God? Here are five of our favorites.
- Car time. Busy days usually also mean a lot of time in the car. You could probably do an entire family devotional in one trip, but there are other ways you can use this time as well. Try doing drive by prayers with your kids when you pray for the people and things you notice on your drive. Ask them about their day and talk about the things God would want them to know about the choices they made or need to make. Play music that is based on scripture and sing along – they will memorize Bible verses easily when they are lyrics to their favorite songs.
- Fast food time. You may not sit down at the kitchen table to a home cooked meal, but you can still have meaningful conversations at the table in a fast food restaurant or even in the car in the parking lot if you went through the drive through.
- Required reading time. Many schools require students to read a certain number of minutes each day. They rarely assign specific books. Why not let your child read from a children’s Bible, the NIrV version of the Bible itself or one of the many Christian books written for children? Some churches still have libraries where you can borrow Christian books for free.
- Snack time. Many children have an afternoon snack. Instead of tossing the food at them and going about your business, sit down with them. Even on the busiest of days, you can spare five minutes to have important conversations with your kids while they eat their snack.
- Bedtime. Once children reach school age, many parents stop doing bedtime prayers with their children. Yet most still tuck their children in and have some sort of bedtime ritual. Consider praying over your child, reading a few Bible verses, telling a Bible story or reminding your children “who they are and whose they are” instead of some secular affirmation in your bedtime routine. Those five extra minutes of time spent with you and God can also help calm and soothe your kids, making it easier for them to sleep.
Be creative. If one of your children is waiting with you during the activity of another – you’ve got a nice block of time. Children too old for naps, benefit from an afternoon rest time when you can rest with them for a few minutes, talking about the things God wants them to know. Find what works best for you and your children, but find time somewhere… because even if you attend church and Bible class regularly, your children will still need to get the bulk of their spiritual education from you.
One of the top goals of Christian parents is to help their kids develop strong spiritual discipline habits. Many families do a great job of encouraging their children to have active, independent prayer lives. Helping kids and teens develop the habit of reading the Bible daily is often more problematic. When we have trouble reading the Bible ourselves on a daily basis or even having periodic family devotionals, how can we help our kids build strong independent Bible study habits?
One of the biggest barriers to developing the spiritual discipline of spending time in scripture each day is just remembering to do it. You and your kids may have the best of intentions. Then life happens and you get distracted. Suddenly, your family looks up and realizes you haven’t even thought about reading the Bible for several days… or even weeks or months.
A great way to help your kids remember daily time in scripture is to set up a Bible corner. If you have enough room, each child may want their own. Bible corners can be in any room, but preferably one in which your child will be several times each day – even on the busiest ones.
Encourage your child to make it as cozy as possible – maybe with a favorite blanket, pillow or chair. Teens might want to add a favorite mug or glass ready for their favorite beverage. Have them place a paper Bible, notebook, pen and any study aids they need in the corner. If the corner is ready for immediate Bible study, it will be much more effective. Teach your kids that when they walk by their Bible corner, they should stop and have their Bible study time if at all possible. If they can’t at that moment, they should schedule an exact time later that day when they will use their Bible corner.
Have fun with it, but use your Bible corners to encourage more time spent in scripture each day – for you and your kids.
When we were exploring the idea of homeschooling our daughter, I did a lot of research. There are as many types of homeschoolers as there are parents. As a card carrying overachiever, I was floored by the families who had working farms, ground the flour for their home baked bread and educated children who went on to earn college degrees at young ages. Many of these families were also Christian and appeared to have children who were living their faith.
While I have yet to grind my own flour when I bake bread several times a year (versus weekly for those super homeschoolers), I did adopt a few of their secrets of success. One of them was having a plan and following the plan. Their plans weren’t necessarily rigid, but they knew without one their children would miss learning crucial material.
Over the years, I began thinking about the idea of planning. I worked with our daughter to develop a plan for all of the things she wanted to learn how to cook and all of the life skills she needed to learn before leaving for college and we slowly worked through the list over time. Why don’t we have a similar plan for the spiritual education of our children? The very rare church may have one, but most will just point to their curriculum scope and sequence. I don’t know that I have ever met a parent that developed one (although I am sure someone has).
With a degree in education, I often have master educational plans floating around my brain. I don’t know why I didn’t capture a spiritual education plan for our daughter, but thankfully with lots of time and intentionality, I believe we eventually gave her a strong faith foundation. Would we have been more thorough and effective if we had a more formal plan? I think if we weren’t too rigid, it might have helped.
So what should be in your child’s spiritual education plan? What Bible stories should they know? How will they develop spiritual disciplines like independent Bible study and prayer? What scriptures will they memorize? What godly character traits should they be mastering? How do you plan to help them identify, develop and use the gifts God gave them to serve Him? What else do you want to make sure they are actively taught about God and living the Christian life?
The spiritual education of your children is eternally important. It needs some serious time, attention and planning. If you put more effort into planning your children’s baseball or dance careers or preparing them for college than you do into their spiritual education, don’t be surprised if their faith foundation crumbles.
Parenting advice is often passed from generation to generation. Or perhaps it is acquired from a Podcast, blog, book or magazine article. Usually, we use our “gut” to decide whether or not to accept this advice as valid. If an “expert” gives the advice, or it’s written in a book, years of education have taught us to assume it is probably the best advice we can get on the topic and we will try to follow it.
Or maybe you are parenting by your “gut” entirely – assuming your “intuition” will warn you whether or not something is “good” parenting. The most common parenting advice often comes via parents at the same stage of life as we are – popularity and “common knowledge” mean the advice works – right?
Experienced parents can tell you that not all parenting experts are right. What’s popular is likely a trend – one that may be rejected as harmful to your child in the future. Parenting peers generally don’t know much more than we do about what will work -and what appears to be working now could have negative repercussions in the future. Not to mention, parenting experts are often secular and don’t necessarily make sure their ideas align with God’s ultimate wisdom.
Talk to experienced Christian parents who have raised children who are active, productive Christians as adults and there are certain bits of parenting “wisdom” that they know young parents should ignore. Often the advice is based on some erroneous assumptions about children and teens.
- “My kids don’t need very much of my time and attention as long as they get “quality” time from me.” It takes a lot of time and energy to raise a child who will grow up to be an active, productive Christian. One study found 14 hours a week need to be spent in Bible study, prayer, conversations about God and other interactions between parents and children focused on their spiritual education. The average parent spends only a few minutes a day talking to their children and most of that is logistical. Christian parenting that is successful usually involves a large quantity of quality time that also includes God in some way.
- “If I’m happy, my kids will be happy./Kids are resilient, so my choices don’t matter” While miserable parents probably do have miserable kids – for the most part – this assumption has a fatal flaw. It is based on a selfish premise – I should do whatever makes me happy and of course my kids will be happy because I parent better when I am happy. It has been used as an excuse by too many parents who are making choices that they know in their hearts will hurt their children. I read a lot of research about how the decisions of parents impact their children. The decisions that are usually justified with this bit of “wisdom” absolutely hurt the children of the parents who make them. Sometimes, circumstances force these choices, but being honest about the real negative impact on your kids makes it more likely you will take steps to try and help your children process and heal from the choice.
- “My teens don’t need or want my involvement in their lives.” While they may be reluctant to admit it, your teens need your involvement in their lives – they just need it to look a little different than they did when they were kids. If you have helped them build a strong faith foundation and taught them plenty of Christian life skills, you shouldn’t have to micromanage their choices. In fact, the closer they are to adulthood – the more they should be allowed to make their own decisions. Your role? Think of yourself as an advisor. They need to bounce new ideas off you. They often want to hear your opinions and more importantly why you think the way you do. They want to know any applicable examples from your own life or the lives of others you know who were faced with similar choices. They want to know what God would think of their various options. What they don’t need is you to make every choice for them, but they absolutely want and need you in their lives. (If your relationship is troubled, they want the parent they wish you were to be there for them – which is a deeper issue.)
- “My kids are getting all of the “Bible education” they need at church. Not all churches and ministries are the same, but the study mentioned earlier would suggest that even faithful attenders are still lacking about ten hours of instruction and coaching a week. Churches just don’t have enough time to give your kids everything they need, to know how to be active, productive Christians as adults.
- “————— is common knowledge. My kids already know that.” The problem with common knowledge is that it is still taught in some way. You may not remember someone teaching you to brush your teeth or to pray, but you were either taught how to do it intentionally or you learned it by observation, reading or in some other way. If something is important, be intentional about teaching it to your children.
- “Children should be allowed to work out their disagreements without adult intervention.” Anyone who knows me knows this particular piece of advice sends me into a tizzy. Children need to be actively taught how to resolve conflicts in godly ways – otherwise, they will likely spend their entire life resolving conflicts like a five year old. Look around our world and you will see the need for teaching your children healthy, godly ways to resolve conflicts.
Let go of these assumptions and your children will benefit. Don’t wait until they are adults to make changes – it will be difficult to undo any damage that was done.
Christianity is a marathon. Not just any marathon, but one where Satan is trying to trip runners in the race so they fall. In fact, he tries to trip Christians so many times that they finally give up trying to be a Christian and just sit wallowing in their failure. God wants your kids to be spiritually resilient. To pick themselves up, dust themselves off and keep running the race towards Heaven.
In the last post, I listed some of the “tools” spiritually resilient young people possess. There are lots of fun things you can do with your kids to make them more resilient and more importantly spiritually resilient. Here are a few of our favorites.
- Scripture songs – sing songs with your kids that remind them of scriptures that will help them be more resilient. Can’t find a song using a verse you want to teach your kids? ”Write” your own song by using a tune in the public domain and matching the syllables of the original lyrics to the syllables in the Bible verse.
- The Apostle Paul and the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day – Familiar with the children’s book about Alexander and his bad day? Share with your kids scriptures and Bible stories about people who had really bad days or a lot of really bad days. Were those people resilient? What tools did they (or didn’t they) use that helped them recover (or not) from their bad days? Which of those tools could help your kids, too?
- Art prayer journal – give your kids a drawing journal and some art supplies. Encourage them to draw their emotions for each day – they may or may not choose to also include other prayer requests in their art work. Encourage them to then pray about those emotions and the events that caused them to God.
- Gift discovery, development and use – help your kids discover the gifts God has given them to serve Him. Find ways to help them develop those gifts and then begin to use them to serve God.
- Puzzles like Logic puzzles, Sodoku, Colorku, etc. – these types of puzzles help develop problem solving skills.
- Games like Blokus, scenario games, Jenga, etc. – look for games that require problem solving or strategy – scenario games can be made by you to cover problems you want them to practice solving in godly ways
- Mysteries and riddles – more problem solving fun
- Hobbies like music and gardening – these hobbies and others like them require patience and perseverance as well as problem solving skill from time to time (what is eating the tomatoes before they ripen)
Prepare your kids for the marathon that is the Christian life. Have fun, but don’t procrastinate. Your kids need those skills every day.