How Special Needs Might Impact Your Child’s Faith

The term special needs covers a wide variety of potential issues a child might have that separates him or her from the norm. Technically, those differences can be above or below the norm in a number of areas. Some children are born with special needs, while others develop them after an illness or accident. A child can have special needs that impact him or her in movement, sight, hearing, cognition, behavior or a combination of these.

What we rarely discuss in Christianity is the impact a child’s special needs might have on his or her faith journey. Every child is different, but these are some things to consider as you help your child with special needs build a strong faith foundation and grow to his or her godly potential.

  • Most young people with special needs will eventually reach the age of accountability. Assuming the average twelve year old is about the age of accountability, estimates are that as many as 80% of people with special needs will eventually be able to reach the age of accountability. They will be able to make an informed decision about being baptized for the forgiveness of their sins and to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Assuming your child will reach that milestone will help you make better choices to help him or her grow spiritually.
  • Spiritual growth milestones may be reached later, sometimes years later than for the average young person. Some young people with severe cognitive impairment may not reach the age of accountability until they are in their 20’s or even 30’s. Others may struggle with maintaining spiritual disciplines or exhibiting Christian character traits like self control until they are older than average. That’s okay. Your child – every child – has a unique timetable and your goal is to help your child reach those spiritual goals at the correct time for him or her. Just don’t underestimate your child’s potential.
  • No matter how severe your child’s special needs may be, he or she has been given potential and at least one gift from God to use to serve Him. Over the years, I have heard so many stories of people who were non-verbal and wheelchair bound who still impacted people’s lives and ministries in amazing ways….often because of their personalities that shown through. You may have to be creative to help your child find and use those gifts to serve God, but it is possible.
  • Your child may need special strategies to help him or her obey God and do the things God wants him or her to do. Children born with fetal alcohol syndrome, for example, have erratic memories. They need visual cues to help them remember things on those difficult days. Adding visual cues for spiritual things like scripture reading or prayer can help. In general, the special strategies your child needs to navigate life may also need to be adapted to help him or her navigate the spiritual aspects of life.
  • Your child will need your advocacy at church, especially in Bible classes. Unfortunately, many churches do not have people who are trained in how to minister to kids and teens with special needs. Some children with special needs can participate fully in Bible classes and activities. Others will need special strategies or extra help to be able to learn and grow. You may have to guide ministry leaders and Bible class teachers or suggest resources to help them minister to your child in ways that are spiritually productive. Don’t be afraid to intervene if you see your child is being placed in a corner and ignored. Ask that your child be taught using strategies that will help him or her best learn what God wants them to know.
  • The way your child worships, serves, and learns about God may look different from other children, but it is just as important and impactful. Depending on your child’s special needs, he or she may never “look” like the average Christian. Maybe your child sees the world a bit differently or interacts with it in a unique way. Those differences can actually make your child’s light shine brighter than that of the average child. That brightness can mean your child may end up having an amazing positive impact on God’s Kingdom…if he or she is given the teaching, opportunities and guidance needed to reach that potential.
  • Your child may have questions or doubts that stem in part from their special needs. Children with special needs may wonder why God made them different from others. It is important you help them understand the concept of God’s original perfect plan and how sin brought a lot of issues…including illness and genetic imperfections into the world. They need to understand more than anyone how much God truly loves them…especially when they are lonely, frustrated or discouraged. They need to hear Bible stories of people God used in spite of their frailties. They need to know God can and will use them to serve others and share their faith, just like all of His people. They need to appreciate that their special needs may actually give them special opportunities to minister to others in ways an average person may not be able to do as effectively. They need to understand the reality of Heaven and the hope for the future it can give.
  • They will need Christian friends and mentors who can see past their special needs. A mother of a child with special needs said she found there were three basic ways people tended to interact with her son. Either they avoided him entirely, they wanted to interact but were very uncomfortable (although willing to learn), or they treated her son like any other person in their lives. Those, she said, were the people who founded it easiest to be a great friend or mentor to her child. Look for those people. Seek them out. Make them a part of your child’s life. It will take intentionality on your part, but the results can be beautiful and lifelong.

Understanding how your child’s special needs can impact his or her faith is crucial if you want to help him or her build a strong spiritual foundation and grow it his or her godly potential. As with many things in parenting, it will take extra time and effort on your part. The rewards in this case are eternal, however, making it more than worth the extra effort.

Teaching Your Kids Godly Time Management Skills

“Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise, but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.” (Ephesians 5:15) is one of many verses in the scripture that counsel us to use our time wisely. Unfortunately, many of us were not taught how to really use our time the way God would want us to use this precious gift.

As a result, many of us have developed if not bad habits, then surely habits that don’t reflect our appreciation or understanding of what a precious gift from God our time is. Which means we aren’t setting the best examples for our kids or actively teaching them how to make the best use of their time in God’s eyes.

So how can you teach your kids to use their time, not just wisely, but prioritizing the things God would prioritize? It’s actually a process more than an absolute list, because their life circumstances can change parts of their schedule.

  • Pull out a calendar where each day is broken down by the hour. Depending upon the age of your kids, you may want to start with a day, a week or a month.
  • Have them block out time for non-negotiables, like sleep, meals, bathing and school. Don’t add part time jobs, extracurricular activities or even Church yet.
  • Ask your kids to list some specific things God wants them to do regularly. This list should include worship services, Bible classes, independent Bible study and prayer. For things like worship services and Bible classes with set times, but them in those slots on the calendar. For things like independent Bible study and prayer, discuss with them when would be a natural time to put that in their schedule. If you can connect it to a daily event, it will be easier to remember. For example, if they sit down for a few minutes after school and have a snack, that might be a natural time to read the Bible independently. (Make it even easier by having them set their open Bible where they normally eat their snack.)
  • Ask your kids to list some other things God may want them to do, but not necessarily every day. This is the heart of your discussion. Would God want them developing a gift He gave them that they can use to serve Him? Would He want them trying some new things to see if they are gifted by Him in those areas? Would He want them reading some Christian books for encouragement or learning? Would He want them involved in periodic larger scale opportunities to serve others and share their faith? Where do those daily acts of service, encouragement and faith sharing go on their schedules, here or in the earlier daily area of their schedule? This is where the time management piece can get tricky. If the scheduled time to read a good Christian book or work on a project developing their gift from God is the night before a big test, that could be problematic. Talk about how to differentiate between what they need to do, what they want to do, what God thinks is crucial that they do and what is flexible. Experiment with calendaring in these things. Once a week look back and encourage them to see what things happened and which ones didn’t. Can they switch somethings around so more things are accomplished well?
  • Godly rest. This is quality Sabbath type rest….not playing video games or zoned out watching a movie. This would include exercise, being in nature, reflection on scripture and life, creating something, surrounding themselves with things from Philippians 4:8. These rest times can be fun times, too. Exercise can be playing games. Developing their gifts often means working on a favorite hobby. (Note: Playing video games is not developing a gift. Taking video game coding lessons, however, might reveal a gift God can use at some point.)
  • Extracurricular activities. These should be added sparingly. They should fit into the schedule already created. So, for example, a sports team that requires regularly missing worship and Bible class won’t make the cut. This is where time management gets hard, really hard for some. God’s priorities must come first. God does not want your child missing worship and Bible classes eight weeks in a row because he or she is on a traveling sports team…for a lot of reasons. This is one of those points where parents who raise active, productive Christians split from those who raise kids who only attend or aren’t involved with Christianity at all. Being willing to sacrifice what’s popular and fun from what God wants you to do is a key faith building step. As a parent of a child who has gone through college admissions, I can tell you most universities don’t need to see dozens of different activities that have taken up every free moment. They want to see qualities like commitment, perseverance, leadership and teamwork skills. These skills can be just as easily shown through an activity or two and taking the initiative to serve God by planning and executing meaningful service and faith sharing opportunities or regularly teaching in a Bible class.
  • Everything else. This category will change regularly. It might include a family vacation, a special school project or a youth group activity. It can even include a little mindless entertainment, although having discussions about those choices is also another great conversation to have at some point.

This activity needs to be revisited regularly until you begin seeing consistent godly time management skills in your kids. If they drop the ball in one area, encourage them to try again the next day, week or month. If your time management skills need a godly update, do the activity with them – especially since their calendars often impact yours, too. It’s also a great way to help them understand that if each of your three kids participates in three activities and don’t drive, you and your spouse are running to nine activities…and what that does to your calendar. Teaching your kids godly time management skills will take some time and effort on your part, but if you do it well, it can help all of you spend your time doing more things that are important to God.

Can Your Children’s Music Really Influence Them

Full confession. I am one of those people who tends to make up their own lyrics to songs. Mind you, it isn’t intentional. I tend to misunderstand them and choose similar sounding, but inevitably wrong words. During my teen years, I also quickly realized the lyrics of many songs whizzed past me as I did not hang out with a group that regularly used foul slang terms. The lyrics I sang were rather innocent, even if the original lyrics weren’t.

Having said that, I have heard adults for decades claim that the lyrics of songs do influence many, if not most teens. I decided to do some research. Obviously, God would prefer we listen to songs with wonderful lyrics. If, however, your teens prefer more mainstream music, could it really impact their faith journey negatively?

The first study I found was under the oversight of the Prevention Research Center. Their study Music, Substance Abuse and Aggression came to some interesting conclusions.

They found that there did seem to be a significant connection between listening to rap music and alcohol use, illicit drug use and aggressive behaviors when all other variables were controlled. Alcohol and illicit drug use (but evidently not aggressive behaviors) were also strongly tied to young people who listened to techno and reggae.

What is unclear, however, is whether listening to those genres encourages those behaviors or young people engaged in those behaviors are drawn to those genres of music. (Note: In this study, alternative, R&B, rock, pop, country, punk, heavy metal, salsa, classical, jazz and world music did not seem to have the same connection to negative behaviors. None of those sampled listened to Christian music.)

They also found that a young person’s gender, age, sensation seeking and ethnicity had some influence on substance abuse and aggressive behaviors. These were controlled for in the genres of music, but it indicates a third sphere of influence on negative teen behaviors.

Their final conclusion was that a teen’s substance abuse and aggressive behaviors could be connected to their frequent listening to the lyrics of certain genres of music containing lyrics about alcohol, drugs and violence.

Also interesting is the impact music and lyrics can have on emotions. A study by Bharucha found that people tend to listen to music to help them feel a specific emotion. So if they want to feel happy, people tend to choose to listen to happy, upbeat songs. Young people may also choose particular songs because the lyrics reflect their current feelings. When one recalls lyrics are actually poetry, this dynamic makes sense.

A study by Vastjall, found that participants reported significantly less stress in periods when they were listening to music than in periods of time when they weren’t. They concluded that even a passive listening to music can influence mood.

Music can also be used to manipulate the emotions of others. Countries have regularly used music as part of their torturing regimen. Music may be chosen for this purpose because of the tune or the lyrics. Volume was also used to create a response in those being tortured.

So what does God have to say about music? In the Bible, we see many verses suggesting we use music to praise God and encourage and teach others. Perhaps the most applicable verse to our discussion of the impact of negative lyrics would be Philippians 4:8. Paul tells us God wants us to fill our minds with things that are good, pure, lovely, admirable and the like. Why? Because the lyrics that become locked in our minds can influence us and God would prefer that influence to be positive.

Should you ban your kids from listening to anything except hymns? That type of parenting can easily backfire, if you aren’t careful. On the other hand, having open discussions between parents and teens about the music each prefers (Mom and Dad’s favorite tunes might have suspect lyrics, too!), it’s lyrics and how it may be influencing each of them can and should be a regular conversation in Christian homes.

Fun Ways to Include God on Family Walks

There has been a lot about this year that hasn’t been so great for many. One of the positives, though, is that many families have been taking daily walks together. While they are great for exercise and stress relief, you can also use them to teach your kids about God. Not by lecturing, but by having fun as you go.

Here are some ideas to get you started.

  • Play “Name the Blessings”. The Bible tells us God’s creation cries out His name. Not literally of course, but we were meant to look at nature and see God. What many Christians forget is that God is responsible for all of our blessings. He may not have built a house with His own hands, but He created the raw materials and gave people the gifts needed to plan and construct a home. As you walk, take turns naming the blessings from God you see. You may want to play it so that you have to find something for the next letter of the alphabet. Or see who can keep it going without repeating a blessing. Have fun with it. End your walk with a quick prayer thanking God for His blessings.
  • Take a prayer walk. As you walk, notice things or people that need to be prayed over. Perhaps it is the neighbor who has been sick or the family who just had a new baby. Maybe it’s for the children who attend the neighborhood school. You can stop and pray as you think of prayer needs and/or add them to your family prayer journal when you get home.
  • Take a service walk. Everyone appreciates a little act of love and service. My grandfather used to take the paper thrown by the street and walk it up to the door people used and leave it there, saving them a walk. Your family may want to surprise people or for some acts (like weeding a neighbor’s flower border), you may need to ask permission first. Even if the person refuses your offer of service, their day can be brightened by your offer.
  • Meet the neighbors challenge. On an average walk in my neighborhood, I can encounter anywhere from five to twenty five people. Using safe distancing practices (and masks if required), see if you can meet these people and start new neighborhood friendships that last beyond COVID. It’s hard to serve and share your faith with people unless you get to know them. You can start by having your adorable little ones wave and say “Hi!”
  • Storytelling walks. Running out of things to talk about on your walks? Try telling stories casually as you go. They can be family faith stories, Bible stories or any other story that teaches your kids about God and what he wants for them and from them.

Any experienced parent will tell you family walks are incredibly valuable. Use them to really listen to your kids and learn about their hearts. Have fun with one of the walks above. Just keep taking them as often as possible.

9 Things Your Kids Need to Learn About Evil

Our world is full of evil. That’s not new. It’s been that way since the Fall in the Garden of Eden. A lot of different factors just make it appear more obvious and pervasive than ever. Your kids may already be asking why some of these evil things are happening. If not, you may want to initiate a conversation about evil.

There are some basic ideas you need to teach your kids about evil.

  • God’s original plan for the world was perfect. When Adam and Eve sinned, they introduced evil into the world. The rest of the Bible addresses God’s plan for us to receive forgiveness for our sins and live with Him in Heaven for eternity. The world being full of evil does not mean God is not a good God. He gave us free will – we are not His robots. He wants us to choose Him. Unfortunately, all of us – except Jesus when he was on earth – have sinned. To be part of that new perfection in Heaven, we have to follow God – which includes becoming a Christian and obeying God’s commands. Sin and evil are because of the poor, sinful choices people have made, not because God doesn’t love us.
  • Satan is alive and active in the world today. Satan is not a myth or a character in a fairy tale. Satan is very real. They also need to know Satan is doing what he can to encourage evil in the world.
  • Satan wants your children to reject God. Your kids need to thoroughly understand Satan is an enemy they are fighting. Satan doesn’t want their property. He wants them to reject God and live a selfish life full of sin.
  • Satan has a bag of tricks at his disposal. You might want your older kids to read The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis. It does a great job of pointing out some of Satan’s favorite tricks. On a basic level for very young children, you can explain Satan tries to convince them to sin and he also tries to convince them not to do the good things God wants us to do.
  • Even though Satan is tricky, your children have 100% control over their actions. One of the biggest problems in society today is personal responsibility is a concept that is no longer embraced. Your children need to absolutely understand, although Satan is tricky, he does not make the final decision about what to do. Each of your children is entirely responsible for the choices they make. The idea of being “born” to sin is wrong. They may be born with a particular weak spot Satan can exploit (like addiction for example), but your child can still choose to protect that weak spot and not sin. Satan cannot force anyone to sin. It can help to teach them Bible verses that talk about our selfish desires (Philippians 2 and James 4) and how they make us more vulnerable to Satan’s temptations.
  • Each child has different weak spots that will be vulnerable to Satan’s tricks. Does one of your children anger easily? The emotion is not a sin, but the actions that happen after the emotion can be sinful. Satan will know that child has a hot temper and will do everything he can to feed your child’s anger in hopes your child will eventually sin. Your (hypothetical) angry child should receive lots of coaching from you about how to be aware of this weak spot and work on it, so he/she is not as vulnerable to Satan’s attack. Each of your kids will have different weak spots and some weak spots all of your children may have. They all need to be addressed and a plan established for how to avoid Satan’s attacks on these areas.
  • They need to ask for God’s help. Teach your children the power of prayer. If they have been baptized, teach them about how the Holy Spirit can help them avoid temptation. Satan can exhaust even the most spiritual person. We can’t successfully battle him for very long without God’s help. Your kids need to know they aren’t fighting the battle against Satan alone.
  • One way to lessen the amount of evil in the world to is teach people about Jesus and God’s plan for their lives. The world doesn’t understand that evil comes from disobeying God’s commands. They have a movable moral compass, which makes it hard to define and rid the world of evil. In theory, as more people become Christians, the amount of evil in the world should begin diminishing. Of course, this means we also need to encourage other Christians to be more godly (and work on being more godly ourselves).
  • Ultimately God wins. Revelation is a tough book to understand. The biggest lesson from it though is ultimately God wins and takes his people to Heaven. Satan will never be able to touch them in Heaven. Sometimes it seems there is so much evil in the world Satan must surely be winning the war of good v. evil. In reality, Satan is only winning a few battles. The winner of the war itself has never been in question. God will win and your kids need to be on the winning side.

Teaching your children to be watchful against Satan and his tricks, will make it easier for them to make godly choices. Satan will still win a battle or two against your children, but if you have trained them to be watchful he won’t win the war for their souls. That is what Christian parenting is ultimately about – preparing your children to win the war against Satan. Parents always say they just want their kids to be happy. Hopefully, Christian parents have an even more important goal – wanting their kids to spend eternity in Heaven.