Q. Our son is in third grade and we're feeling the need for other Christians to help us teach him about the Christian life. Apart from family, who are some of the other people we should try to bring into his life?
A. When it comes to raising children who love Jesus, parents are the first-string players. But that doesn't mean you have to go without some serious back-up. You're wise to seek out other people who can serve as "second-stringers" in your child's life. Children simply can't have too many positive role models.
Young children are hero worshipers and parents are typically the biggest heroes of all; they can do no wrong. But all that changes around fifth or sixth grade. Suddenly children see their parents' flaws, and for a few years they want to be as different from their parents as possible.
That's where the "second string" comes in. A few well-placed Christian adults can provide the guidance and support your child is hesitant to accept from you. If family isn't an option, consider helping your son develop close friendships with some of these important people in his life:
Sunday school teachers
Build a friendship with your son's current teacher and continue that relationship when your son moves to another class. An invitation to a ball game, a birthday card from your son, a postcard from vacationall are easy ways to add his third, fourth, and fifth grade teachers to your "team" and keep them there.
Older neighbors in particular might be thrilled to connect with your child. Many seniors are geographically removed from their own grandkids and are generous with smiles, conversations, and cookies. These older neighbors also are opportunities for child-sized Christian service. A few years ago, my husband, Jack, was amazed to find our neighbor, 8-year-old Gannon, at the door with a snow shovel. "I'll do your walk for free," Gannon said. "It's my gift to Jesus this week." His mother later told Jack, "Gannon says that you and his turtle are his two best friends." What an honor!
Continue to keep surrogate grandparents aware of what's happening as your son grows older. Gannon is now in middle school. This summer, we helped support him on a church missions trip. He knew he could count on us because we have been part of his life for years.
The Internet makes it easy to have daily contact with distant relatives and friends. Help your son build e-mail prayer chains. Encourage Grandma or Uncle Steve to e-mail your son with specific prayer requests and have your son share his prayer needs with them. Set aside time each day to pray for these family and friends.
Your church family
Together pick three or four people in your congregation to be special friends. Don't forget singles, older people, and teenagers. A mature teen with a strong, active faith can be a terrific role model as your son moves closer to adolescence.
Encourage your son to talk to these people every Sunday he sees them. Include them in some family activities, or invite them to join you for a meal now and then so they become a regular presence in your son's life.
Many pastors see very little of the children in their congregation and know few of them by name. But given the chance, most pastors enjoy getting to know children. Invite your pastor to dinner, or to your son's ballgame or piano recital. Help your son see the pastor not just as a leader, but as a friend.
Developing a community of trusted adults in your son's life now will save you a great deal of heartache when he decides you don't know everything.
Marlene LeFever is the Director of Church Relations at Cook Communication Ministries.
Copyright © 2003 by the author or Christianity Today/Christian Parenting Today magazine.
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