I am often asked for ways to help children engage their faith. This is a very important aspect of parenting no matter which faith your family practices. Here are some practical ways to do this without being boring or overbearing...
When my children were young there was a big emphasis on “family devotion time” in Christian homes. There were a lot of books and other resources available for this. The technique most often suggested was to read a devotion guide and a passage of scripture each day after dinner or before breakfast or at some prescribed time of the day. There was only one problem: most of these resources were mind numbingly dull, sanctimonious in their tone and not written by people who understood children. At least not my children. A lot of moms I knew reported the same issue.
So I tried another technique and, frankly, at the time, I thought I wasn't “doing it right” when it came to devotion time for my children. I was really hard on myself about raising my children in a Christian home. Since I was not raised that way and I didn’t have a strong example of how to do it, I read and listened to everything on the topic that I could find and tried to follow through on all of it. My poor kids!
Eventually I realized that what really worked was to simply keep organic faith conversations going. By organic conversations I mean that our faith was a topic which came up often and naturally as time went on. I very seldom sat the children down and insisted that we “talk about religious things”. The topic came up organically as we observed our world and moved through our days.
Organic conversations begin where you are. For example: when we were doing math problems I would casually mention that only God could be in charge of something as simple as 2+2 and at the same time the complexities of the Pythagorean theorem and have all of it be exact and perfect every single time. Mathematical studies are remarkable in that they are universal; they cut through all cultures. Math reminds me of when God called Himself “I Am”. Or, more literally, “I am being that which I am being”. Math is what it is.
Use the world itself to communicate the love and wonder of God to your children. When you see a rainbow in the sky, talk about how the sun passing through the water droplets in the air separates the light into all the colors and they are projected on the clouds like a movie screen.
But then, tell them about the very first people that God showed a rainbow to. Talk about Noah and how he was commanded by God to save the animals of earth from the great flood and when the flood was over, God put the rainbow in the sky as the sign of His promise that never again would the earth be destroyed with water. The rainbow is still a sign of God’s great love, and a wonderful science lesson to boot!
Of course we also want to ensure that our children know the great events that are foundational to our faith and the amazing people that lived through them. Read and tell these stories often so that your children become as familiar with them as if they were old friends. David the shepherd turned king; Moses the prince turned deliverer; Deborah the prophet and judge who showed the world how to be victorious. Peter the disciple who denied Jesus but was still the rock on which the Church was built; Paul who endured great hardships and continued to preach and teach so that all the world could hear the gospel.
But focus on this point: when you tell of these great events, remember that these are true and factual events that are important. If you don't know in your heart that these stories are historical truths and not just religious fairy tales, your children will recognize this. It will come through in the way you tell the story. Children are remarkably perceptive and they know when you are telling them stories to entertain and when you are connecting them to history.
To demonstrate this, think for a moment about a historical event that you know to be true such as the bombing of Pearl Harbor, HI in 1941, or the first powered flight taken by the Wright brothers. How would you tell your child about these? Next, think for a moment about how we tell our children about the first Christmas. How do you tell about this? As an established historical fact or as a sweet story of a cute baby cooing in a comfortable manger?
As your children grow, allow the stories to grow as well. They can begin to absorb more details and more challenging details with each passing year. Help their faith to grow as they do. The bonus is that when you help their faith grow you are growing your own as well. This example of spiritual development is one your children will see and respect.
Allow your faith to penetrate every part of your home. Weekly worship is how we celebrate our faith and connect to others, but building the faith in a family is a project that is ongoing. Your children want to be connected to the faith of their ancestors, and they want you to show them the way.