To raise children to be active productive Christians, you need to raise children who truly understand what it means to “love your neighbor as yourself”. It will probably be easy to love people that like the same things they like or are similar to them in easily identifiable ways. But what about the people with whom they have little, if anything, in common? Or people with whom they have serious disagreements about various topics?
There is a fun activity you can do with your children to begin talking with them about differences and finding points of connection to make loving others as they love themselves more likely. You can do this activity at any time of the year, but it can be the most fun in the Fall, when the leaves are beginning to change color. (Assuming you live somewhere that it happens!)
Take your children on a lead collection walk or hike. Other than poison oak or poison ivy leaves, have them collect a variety of leaves. Sit down with all of the leaves you have collected and compare them to each other. You may even have your children place them in different types of groups – sorting by size, shape, coloring, edging, etc. Which leaves appear to be the most alike? Which two are the most different?
Now encourage your children to look at the leaves in a different way. What are some things that all of the leaves have in common? You can focus on what they can see or go into deeper scientific similarities like how they get the nutrients they need. You may want to jot down their findings for the lists of differences and similarities.
Tell your children that in some ways people are like these leaves. When we first meet someone new, the first thing we may notice are all of the differences between us. If we notice too many differences, we may be tempted to reject them as friends or decide we don’t like them at all. We may even decide we don’t want to help them if they need it, or talk badly about them to others. Ask your children if that is how God wants us to treat everyone?
Point out that if they look more closely though, they will probably find some things in common with everyone. If we are having a hard time finding those things, it can help to ask questions that will help us find those things we have in common. Maybe it is a favorite food, book, show, game or something else. Have your children give you examples of questions they can ask to help the find the things they have in common with others. Remind them to try not to sound like a police interrogation, but to ask the questions in a casual way.
After you’ve finished the activity, continue to talk about the principles on a regular basis. Encourage them to find things in common with a variety of people. It can help them be more likely to serve others and share their faith with love and kindness.