Talking about faith with your child

The children were busy upstairs – a rare opportunity for Aran to sit in the armchair to read the newspaper! It surprised him that he still bothered to buy a Sunday paper when it usually went unread and he always had his phone.

Zeek, aged 8, was not upstairs. He jumped on to his dad’s lap, creating a jumbled heap of boy and newsprint! As father, son and newspaper disentangled themselves, Zeek caught sight of a horrific photo of a boy in Homs, hit by shrapnel just above his eye.  

‘That’s bad!’ he exclaimed. ‘How did he get that?’

Children are curious. They explore the world by actions and words. Not just the Why? questions, but the Where? When? and What for? Younger children live in the present, forever stimulated by never-before-seen activity – funny, puzzling and sometimes scary. Older children are more intentional in trying to make sense of what they encounter.

Parents attempt to answer as best we can, with varying degrees of patience and success. We may not know all the answers about God (who does?), but, to enlarge our children’s grasp and experience of life which includes faith, we’ll want to actively engage with them.  There may be significant discoveries for us along the way. Here are ten of them:

  1. What does our child really want to know? Was Zeek’s interest in the boy’s shrapnel wound about how his head got hurt, what’s going on in this boy’s world, why does war happen, or would he get better? Truth be told, any answer may or may not be satisfactory.
  2. There is rarely one simple answer. For parents, there’s always tomorrow and the next day to continue the conversation. Children do not compartmentalise life. Food, faith, friends and fantasy are all intertwined. You can take time to look at questions from different angles, to return to topics previously discussed and to develop – and even change – your ideas.
  3. Zeek sees and experiences life and understands God as an 8-year-old. With all children it makes sense when talking about God to focus on Jesus, a human being just like them, who ate, cried, got bruises and laughed. Older children become aware of issues that are important to God, such as injustice, caring for the planet and bad things happening to good and bad alike. Parents can pitch a conversation at the right level.
  4. If we assume God loves us and is always with us, in answering Zeek’s question, we might include a comment such as, ‘I think God is distressed about this boy’s injury!’
  5. It helps to find places and times where we can give our child our full attention – car rides, fun times, mealtimes, read-the-newspaper times!
  6. Guardians of Ancora opens up conversations about God, faith, the stories of the Bible and much more. When you sit together and one of you plays (or you both play), chatting about the things of faith becomes natural and easy. You play as equals (though your child may be more adept than you!) and talking flows freely.
  7. Bedtime opens up opportunities to talk about God – and we all know about ‘delaying-tactic’ questions! Use this simple three-part prayer pattern to identify something or someone:  to be thankful for; to be sad about; to tell God about.
  8. Bedtime reading could include Bible stories or the Bible itself, whether reading together or our child reading for themselves. There are dozens of wonderful Bible storybooks.
  9. Parents are also allowed to ask questions – factual and open-ended ones to stretch our child’s thinking about God. If they then ask questions to which we don’t know the answer, ask someone else, use the Internet, promise to think about it later or get hold of a Bible (real or virtual) to build up our own faith and knowledge. [link to articles on ‘Answering children’s questions]
  10. Children are fascinated when we share our own experiences of Christian faith, especially from when we were young: it may be that you have such stories to tell. Or maybe your own grasp of faith is quite recent or you are exploring options yourself: share those experiences too.

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