As Christian parents we want to “train up a child in the way he should go…” according to Proverbs 22:6, but when exactly should we begin to really pursue this? It is tempting to put it off until our children are at school and can read and write, so that maybe they are better able to understand when we try to teach them. But little children can learn and understand about life from a much younger age, and can develop good foundations for their character during their very first few years – especially from copying what we do. It’s never too early to begin helping our children love and serve God.
A note from me:
Today’s post is very special because it was written by a guest writer. This subject is something I have been thinking about over the last couple of months and I wanted some advice on how to implement it. As I discussed it with my mother who has MANY years experience in children’s ministry (and who used these very techniques on me as a child), I realized that the information she had was such a huge help to all moms and should be shared. So, she was kind enough to write this post for me. Below the post you will find more info on her and her ministry. Check out her website – she has so many amazing teaching tools that can be used in the home as well as in ministry.
This verse in the International Children’s Bible reads: “Train a child how to live the right way. Then even when he is old, he will still live that way.” We can (and should!) begin training our children how to live the right way from when they first begin to communicate with us, and we’ll look at some simple, practical ways to do this.
Learning to “live the right way” has nothing whatever to do with how much intelligence or knowledge we have – or how old we are! In Luke 10:25-28 (Easy to Read Version) we read of an expert in the law who asked Jesus basically that very question:
Then an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. He said, “Teacher, what must I do to get eternal life?”
Jesus said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you understand from it?”
The man answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.’ Also, ‘Love your neighbor the same as you love yourself.’”
Jesus said, “Your answer is right. Do this and you will have eternal life.”
The lesson plan to help you get started
This key passage is surprisingly short and astonishingly clear! If we use it as our “lesson plan” to teach our children, there are really only two parts – teach them to love God wholeheartedly, and teach them to love others! Since they cannot “see” God, we have to do our best every day to point out His presence in our lives. We cannot see the wind, but even children can feel and enjoy its presence, and see the effect of it on the things around us. Similarly, we can let our children see the love and appreciation WE have for God – praising Him for the beauty of wild flowers and butterflies; thanking Him for answering our prayers and meeting our needs; praying to Him for strength or wisdom.
Teach them to love God wholeheartedly
Maybe your children have relatives who live far away – perhaps their dad is in the military and must be gone a lot, or perhaps their grandparents live across the country. In such cases we make a great effort to talk about those relatives, pointing out photos and pictures of where they live so that they can still be an important presence in our children’s lives. Let’s make that same effort to help them love and appreciate our Heavenly Father by talking about Him often and having Him as a real living presence in our lives. Even without picture books, we can tell them stories of Jesus and help them to see Him as their loving, caring friend, whose life can be an example to “live the right way”.
We can never underestimate how much our little ones are actually taking in and understanding. Our son Mark was only 4 years old when he accepted Jesus as his Savior and Lord. With five siblings, and parents very involved in children’s ministry, Mark had sat through many hours of church and children’s ministry, but he didn’t make the decision as a result of an altar call – it happened one evening at supper. Out of the blue he turned and asked me what happens when we die. In the midst of a busy meal I just gave him a quick answer, but afterwards when I was putting him to bed he seemed very thoughtful, so we continued the discussion. As I was explaining how Jesus took our punishment so we could have a new life and really know God, our Father in Heaven, Mark asked if he would have to go back inside my tummy to do that! After understanding a little better, he prayed and accepted Jesus, and went happily to sleep!
Teach them to love others
Now for the second part of our “lesson plan”: “Love your neighbor the same as you love yourself.” In the bible story, even the expert in the law asked Jesus for more clarification: “And who is my neighbor?” (v.29) Jesus answered by telling the Parable of the Good Samaritan, which basically tells us that our “neighbor” is anyone we come across whom we can help and show love to. This means we are to always be aware of others and their needs – and show love by helping them in some way. This is a key characteristic of a Christian as we are all called to be servants and to think of others rather than just ourselves. Now THIS is why I believe it is so important to start tackling this issue even with our little 2 and 3 year olds – because it is so “natural” to be focused on ourselves!
Who is MY neighbor?
In addition to family, and friends at daycare or the church nursery, consider taking your little ones to visit other people in order to broaden their life experience:
- Such as an elderly person or someone who is stuck at home all day in your own neighborhood. Many home bound elderly people find the time passes slowly with every day the same, and the most exciting thing to look forward to is the next meal! Little children bring a breath of fresh air with them – eyes wide with wonder at new things, and cute, refreshing comments (although admittedly sometimes embarrassing!!). Just ten minutes is probably enough for everyone, yet it can bring a smile to a wrinkled face and something to look forward to if the visits become regular. In return, your little ones are introduced to a very different home, leading to new questions and aspects of life to consider (especially if their own grandparents are far away or have passed on).
- Or if you are able to visit a retirement home, you could ask to visit someone who rarely has visitors or would particularly appreciate a short visit with a small child. Even in retirement homes the days can seem monotonous and a short visit from strangers who are willing to sit and chat for a while can be a real encouragement. Some elderly folk there may be far away from their own grand kids, and so really appreciate the visit with your little ones.
- You may learn of a family that has a child with special needs. Sadly such families often have few friends, or tend to feel awkward because their child looks or acts differently. They may be exhausted and feel very lonely. As Christians we should be more willing to offer friendship, and even with little children of our own, this should not stop us. It just means we need to talk things through more to help our little ones understand how people can be different or possibly unable to do everything that others can do.
- Maybe you have a special connection to a particular group of people, such as firefighters, missionaries or the military. Let your little ones be a part of that as you share with them your appreciation for that special work and develop ways to encourage and thank those people.
- Finally, don’t forget to PRAY and ask God to connect you with people that need encouragement or help from both you and your little ones. It’s amazing how He LOVES to answer such prayers!
Ways to show love
As you and your little ones develop these relationships, there are so many simple ways to show love and caring that don’t have to cost anything other than some time and preparation:
- As you plan another visit you can do a special activity with your little ones in preparation, such as baking cookies to share; picking wildflowers as a gift; drawing pictures or (in the case of very little children) letting them choose pictures to cut out from a magazine and then gluing them onto a paper to create a picture.
- On special days such as Christmas or Valentine’s Day you can make cards to send or deliver personally; or for Memorial Day or Veteran’s Day you could make or buy small flags to hand out as you visit and thank veterans in a retirement home.
- You could take your little ones shopping and pick out inexpensive, lightweight items such as gum, lip balm, stick it notes, pens, little packs of tissues…. and then put together a care package with a personal note to send to someone far away. This is especially fun to do to send or give to missionary families or children as then of course you can include candy, packages of Koo-laid, stickers, barrettes, crayons etc….
- As your little ones grow out of their clothes, you might consider one day sorting through them all with your children to set aside ones to give away to a needy family or to a thrift store. Of course your children may hold fond memories of some clothes and be upset about giving them away. Don’t be swayed by their tears!!! If they can learn from an early age to let go of things in order to help others, that is a major accomplishment that will help them get their priorities right early on! Once you’ve done this you could maybe tackle passing on some of those excess toys they no longer play with!!!! Rather than doing this secretly and hoping they won’t notice, this way is actually a great teaching moment!
- Most little ones love to “help” and are quick to copy their parents cleaning the house or picking up trash in the yard, so take advantage of this in a good way! Don’t just let them help you at home, look for opportunities to help others also. Maybe you can all help a neighbor pick up pecans or rake leaves in their yard. Perhaps you could offer to wash an elderly neighbor’s car for them – your little ones may get soaked as they help but they can’t get into much trouble and will get accustomed to helping others from a young age WITHOUT expecting payment!!!
- And finally, once again, don’t forget to PRAY to ask God for new ideas to involve your little ones in showing love to others. Our Heavenly Father is the CREATOR and has never let me down when I’ve asked Him for new ideas!!
More about the Author
Shirley Davis has served for countless years in children’s ministry. She has visited countries all over the world on short term missions trips as well as living 6 years in Mexico as a full time missionary. She is a currently a contributor to the Christian Magazine Noothana Horeb in Eluru, A.P., India and provides a monthly children’s article to said publication. Over the years she and her husband, Gerald have created countless resources, games, lessons plans and other materials. They are available for free download on their website which you can reach by clicking HERE.