Jump directly to the Content

How to Make God Real to Your Kids

It's easier than you think, says child-friendly educator Karyn Henley
How to Make God Real to Your Kids

We all want to make God's love and care real to our kids, but it can be a challenge. We sit Jimmy down to hear a Bible lesson only to find that he's more interested in poking his brother and tipping his chair back on two legs—before falling over. Even when no stitches are required, it's frustrating.

Many of us feel we're not doing that great a job at the most important task facing Christian parents. But before you don sackcloth and ashes, consider the hands-on approach advocated by child-education specialist Karyn Henley.

"Kids can learn from the direct teaching approach," she says, "but they really learn better in other ways." Karyn is a popular speaker and the author of several books, including The Beginner's Bible, God's Story, and Child-Sensitive Teaching. She and her husband, Ralph, live in Nashville with their two sons.

How can we make our children's spiritual development a more natural part of family life?

We often think of family devotions as everyone sitting down together to read the Bible and pray. But with young children, family devotions don't have to involve reading anything. Children 5 and under learn best by moving around and touching things. So if your kids are preschool age, do something active for family devotions.

What else works with young children?

Talking is a natural way to connect. You don't have to talk about Jesus every moment, but you should be modeling Christian values. You do that in the daily routines of family life—washing clothes or cleaning up spills. When you serve your family, you are modeling part of what it means to have a Christlike character.

But do kids realize that when Mom cleans up a mess, she's demonstrating a Christlike spirit?

They won't make the connection, but you can. Just say, "I'm being a helper. And sometimes you help me. Those are things that God likes us to do."

But even when you're not talking about it, you are building into your child's life a picture of how Christian faith is lived out. And your life speaks louder than any words you'll say. If he sees you read your Bible regularly, one day he'll sit down with a book. He might be holding it upside-down, but he's pretending to read his Bible.

When we encounter a "teachable moment" in our child's life, how can we make full use of the opportunity?

The best way is to use Jesus' method, which involves connecting a truth with the listener's experience. Identify one of your child's experiences, verbally connect the truth to that experience, then challenge the child to think about God.

What does this look like at home?

Let's say the sun is beginning to set. You and your child could draw a chalk outline around a shadow on the driveway. Then you'd say, "Let's come back in ten minutes and see where the shadow is."

When you come back, you'll see that the shadow has moved. But you can explain: "The shadows caused by the sun move. But the Bible says that God 'does not change like shifting shadows' (James 1:17). That's a verse from the Bible." You've taken something concrete and connected it to a truth in the Bible.

Then, to help your child consider the significance of God's unchanging nature, you could say, "I'm glad God doesn't change. What are some things about God that you're glad never change?" You're challenging your child to think about God's character.

God's creation provides natural opportunities for lessons about his character. But what about difficulties in a child's life? Should we use troubling experiences to teach spiritual truth?

It's not too early to do that, even when your kids are preschoolers. Let's say your child's friend is hurting because her parents are getting a divorce. The friend fears she'll never see her dad again.

If your child is concerned about her friend's pain, talk about the situation. You can begin by asking, "Why do you think Jenny was crying?" By asking and listening, we learn what our children understand, what they're confused about, and what they might be thinking. Usually, all they want is a simple explanation.

Just say, "This was a very sad thing that happened to your friend's parents. Let's pray for her and then think about what we can do to help her feel better."

What about troubling experiences in the child's own life, such as being afraid of the dark? How can we use those as teaching opportunities?

First, remember that it's natural for a child to be afraid or unsure—such as being frightened by thunderstorms or being shy around strangers. We parents are afraid of some things too.
You can help by showing your child that he can come to you with his fears, and you will not just push that away. Children want to be heard. But without realizing it, we often block the process. When a child's afraid, a parent might say, "Oh, thunder won't hurt you. Be a big boy and be brave." That doesn't acknowledge the child's feelings.

What would be a better way to respond?

It's helpful to say: "I understand that you're afraid of the thunder. Why don't you sit in my lap so we can rock for a minute? And let's sing a song about God's love and care while we're rocking." That's a great time to help your child think about God's protection.

Another thing that helps is telling stories. If you can find good story books that deal with the same thing your child is struggling with, read them to your child. Or you can make up your own simple stories.

Some of us have trouble making up good stories. Is there another way we can address our kids' problems?

Yes, take advantage of play time. When you play with your child, she develops more trust in you, especially in the preschool years. As you get down on the floor and pretend to be a doggie, you are able to talk together in ways that you can't do if you sit her down and say, "There now, let's talk."

Also, you can set up situations with toys that address your child's concerns. Just say, "This little bear is afraid to go to bed at night. His mom and dad are over here." Then let the child play with the figures. She might say, "Now the little bear isn't afraid 'cause his mom closed the window and the curtains stopped blowing, and they said a prayer to God. And God is watching over him."

So far we've talked about parents teaching their kids. But young children do have a natural softness toward God. How can we learn from our kids?

Adults lose our sense of awe because we tend to focus on what's in our brains instead of what God has put in front of us. We can be sitting very quietly but lack peace inside because we're thinking about what we didn't do that we should have done, or what we're supposed to do three hours from now that we really dread doing. We are continually living either in the past or in the future.

But children live in the present. What a child sees, what he smells, what he hears, what he tastes, what he touches, that's where he's living.

That's why kids see those awesome things in God's creation that we overlook because we just go blind. So let your kids inspire you with awe and let it draw you into seeking God.
God gives us children to grow us up, but he gives us children to keep us childlike inside too.

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

Free CT Women Newsletter

Sign up for our Weekly newsletter: CT's weekly newsletter to help you make sense of how faith and family intersect with the world.

Read These Next


Join in the conversation on Facebook or Twitter

Follow Us

More Newsletters