Q. I want my preschooler to know about God, but it's so hard to know what he can understand. What are the basics I should teach him right now?
A. As parents, we want so much for our children to know and love God that we often become anxious that we aren't doing enough to build a spiritual foundation in their lives. But in truth, our children are just beginning their journey of experiencing God. The Bible says there is a season for everything (Ecclesiastes 3), and that includes your child's ever-growing relationship with God.
Still, this is a wonderful time to help that relationship begin. Preschoolers are spiritual people and they are particularly open to the wonder and mystery of God. They are also at a stage where they are just discovering the concept of personhood, of recognizing that they are separate from you and can think and do things on their own. This helps them understand God as a real "person"someone they can talk to, someone who cares about them.
One of the best ways to reinforce this concept of God is prayer. Prayer is about knowing and trusting God. It's engaging for children, readily connects to their interests and experiences, and can be learned and practiced in a variety of ways. Prayer also opens the door to all kinds of other conversations about God.
When you pray with your child, remind him that God is with us all the time and prayer is a way we can be with God whenever we want to be. Pray often and in a variety of places to show your child that prayer is not just something we do at bedtime or before meals. Pray in the sandbox, the bathtub, or in the car. Pray when your child feels afraid or when he's excited. Pray for other family members and friends.
I also encourage you to think through your goals for your child's spiritual understanding. What are the key pieces of faith you want your child to develop? Most likely, these will include basics like trust, love, compassion, and kindness. Then think about ways you can instill these in your child. Think about what might need to happen in your family life to build these essentials into your child's understanding. Perhaps you'll need to start having more overt conversations about God's work in the world, or pray aloud when you might have prayed silently in the past. Make your home a place where loving God and trusting him are as natural as loving each other.
Knowing when your child is ready for more will take some intentional effort on your part. Watch how your child uses what he's discovering about God. Listen to the ways he talks about God, engage him in conversations about God, show him and tell him about God's work in your life. As he moves into social settingsplay dates, preschool, Sunday schoolencourage him to be a kind, caring friend, just like God.
The development of faith is different from other kinds of development. It's not just about facts and information. It's a multidimensional, life-altering process that infiltrates every part of our being. Trust that God can build a bright flame from the sparks of faith you're lighting in your child.
Mary Maslen is the Early Childhood Specialist for Awana International. She makes her home in Illinois.
Copyright © 2004 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.