Sometimes I look at my past self and just shake my head. I was 30 before I had a child. In my 20’s most of my friends started having children - some of their children were nearly teenagers before my own kid was born. I watched all of them, noting the parenting techniques that worked and those that didn’t. After a decade of careful observation, I knew that parenting would be a piece of cake. I could just bypass all of the mistakes that younger, unexperienced parents would make. (Insert head-shaking here.)
As soon as my daughter was born, I realized that this was not the cake walk I thought it would be. From sleep to temper tantrums, I simply did not have the answers. So then I took to the internet for help… THAT was a bombardment of conflicting advice that left me bewildered. Maybe you’ve been there before.
I’m not here to claim to know all of the answers, but God has taught me some important lessons through having my own child and working with kids for the past couple decades.
Before anything else, we have to realize that God is the One working. It’s kind of like gardening. We have to prepare the ground, make sure there’s the right amount of sunshine, plant the seeds, and water. We do have responsibilities. But is there any way WE can actually make a seed grow? No. That’s impossible. We have nothing to do with that process. God designed the seeds to respond to certain conditions, and it’s God alone who makes the miracles happen. I will never get over the fact that God makes new plants out of teeny little seeds!
We have the responsibility to tend that garden, and to start it. We facilitate the physical needs of the plants so that growth can happen. Of course unordinary things can happen - like the time I planted a whole patch of sunflower seeds and none of them came up. And then a few began to spout up in places around the yard where I did not plant them.. thank you, birds. Or the times that you may find a “volunteer” tomato plant that defeats the odds and springs up out of a compost pile a year after you recycled a rotten tomato. Usually those are the exceptions to the rule.
The point is that we do have the responsibility to do certain things to help our kids learn about God. God commands that we teach our children about Him continually and sincerely. I talked about that more in part one of this blog. You can read it here if you missed it. As we teach our children, God gives us wisdom and works in the hearts of our children. That is something that only He can do. If you are feeling overwhelmed or drowned in regret, remember that the King of kings and Lord of lords is the One at work. Bring your concerns to Him in prayer, and let Him do the work.
I am the vine. You are the branches. He who remains in me and I in him bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. John 15:5
As you set out to teach your children who God is, the most important thing we can do is recognize that God should be central in everything we do as parents. There is no room to have compartments in thinking or hypocrisy in living. It has to be real to us as we devote ourselves to this important task. Each decision we make should be filtered through the Bible, not through TikTok trends (hopefully that is obvious!) or what the latest book says.
Some of the best advice I ever got was to read a Proverb-per-day (since there are 31 proverbs, you can get through them in a month.) King Solomon was inspired by God to write this book of the Bible. In the first chapter he states that one of the purposes of the book is to give knowledge and discretion to the young (Proverbs 1:4). In my experience, it seems like every day there’s a new nugget of knowledge that I never saw or understood before. If you want to learn about life and parenting, this is a fantastic place to begin.
Let’s talk about some practical ways to incorporate Bible teaching into everyday life with each age group. This is just a starting point. Use your imagination, and soon, speaking about God and the Bible will become second nature. Not only will your child learn - so will you!
From birth, children are learning how to navigate in this new and fascinating world. They may not be able to comprehend difficult words or concepts, but they will learn your patterns and habits. During this time they perceive what is normal life. They can recognize the powerful name of Jesus and even learn melodies that will later help them to memorize truth about God through music. Instead of doing silent devotions, read your Bible out loud to them. Pray with them. Make these memories normal and often.
2-4 Years Old
Continue to make God the priority in their lives and yours! Some children will be easily able to memorize short Bible verses like Genesis 1:1. This is a good time to begin talking about truth and make-believe. When you tell your child a fairy tale, let them know that it is not really true. Help them to understand what elements of the story are fantastical. When you tell them a Bible story, always explain that it’s a true story that God wants us to know. It really did happen!
Help them see little truths every day, like “Look at that beautiful bird. God made birds on the 5th day of creation!” Or, “Do you see how God takes care of that bird outside? God takes care of us, too.”
If a child does something wrong, use the circumstance to teach about sin, forgiveness, and the reason that Jesus died for us.
5-8 Years Old
When a child begins reading, it is a great time to give him his own Bible! My favorite to use for my daughter is NIV because it is simple. The Bible is a great book to help teach a child to read. When they are learning their first sight words, read some verses and stop to let them read words like “the,” “at,” “God,” and “Lord.” They will be thrilled at this accomplishment!
Children at this age can begin to learn life lessons from the book of Proverbs. Choose one verse from Proverbs to read. Ask your child if he understands it. Explain the Proverb and see where the conversation goes!
Most kids love to learn songs. Chances are, if you teach them a Scripture song now, it will be in their head for the rest of their lives.
9-12 Years Old
Perhaps your child has only learned specific stories from the Bible. (Maybe you skipped the story of Sodom and Gomorrah or David and Bathsheba?) If you haven’t already, consider filling in the gaps. Many kids grow up thinking that Bible characters were flawless - but they weren’t, except for Jesus! Bible characters were just people who served an amazing God!) You will have talking points with your kids about things like healthy (and unhealthy) friendships, money, sex, anger, and self-awareness.
Teenagers will have tons of questions. Sometimes they will stump you with these questions, but don't get discouraged - learn more! Study and pray with them. Let them be honest and real. Tell them the truth and let God continue to work on their heart. Encourage them to listen to the Bible, read it, and memorize it. Allow the Bible to speak for itself and guide them if they get stuck. This may give many opportunities for your teen to open up and have memorable and necessary conversations. Some teens may enjoy writing a Scripture song or making Bible verse art. Young teens may find it fun to act out scenes in the Bible.
If something doesn’t work, try out another idea. Make it exciting for the whole family. You have nothing to lose, but everything to gain.
being confident of this very thing, that he who began a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ. Philippians 1:6
Note: If you use a children’s Bible storybook to familiarize your child with Bible stories, read the actual Bible story for yourself. Sometimes they are not accurately told. An example of this is when the book depicts that Adam is not with Eve as she eats the forbidden fruit. The Bible account tells us that Adam was with her. Something like this may seem little, but it is not a true record and can give children the wrong idea. It is also important to tell them that the story is from the Bible, and maybe even show them where it is in your Bible, read a simple key verse from the story and continue to read the story in their picture book.