7 Ways to Discuss the Faith with Your Children

This is one of a nine part series on introducing your children to the faith.  Today’s topic is talking to your children about the faith.

As a parent, one of the best ways to introduce the faith to your children is to talk about it and live it.  Children are curious sponges, and they will want to know everything you know.  Here are seven ways you can talk to your children about the faith.

1.  Discuss the Sermon

After church – whether it’s at breakfast or lunch or even on the way home, carve out some time to discuss the sermon and readings with your children.  If your children are older, ask them what they thought of the sermon, how it applies to their lives, and whether there was anything that they had trouble understanding.  Use the discussion to come up with goals for the week on how to live out the faith.

If you have younger children or children who were in the nursery, take the time to summarize the sermon to them.  Put it into words they can understand.  Again, look for ways as a family to live out the sermon or readings in the coming week.

It’s never to early to start talking about your faith with your baby.  If your child is too young to even hold a conversation with you, then do the talking yourself.  With your baby around, talk to your spouse about the sermon.  This will help build the tradition of discussing the sermon after church, and you might be surprised at what your baby picks up.

2.  Relate Every Day Experiences to the Faith

With young children, it’s very easy to relate daily experiences to the faith and to the Bible.  We’re trying to teach our toddlers and preschoolers social rules like sharing and cooperating, not hitting and biting.  It’s easy enough to say that Jesus wouldn’t want us to hit or to relay a Bible story teaching obedience.  However, as parents we can think deeper for ways to relate our daily life to the faith.

Take a moment to write down a few instances in the last week where your child was having difficulty with something.  How could you use the Bible or your faith to help your child work through that difficulty?  Chances are, you’ll have an opportunity to share your faith with your children this week!

A Few Ideas

  • When doing chores, talk to your child about how we should help others, about honoring our mother and father, and how we can unite our sufferings with Jesus.
  • When it rains outside, you can talk about the wise man who built his house upon the rock or the story of Noah and the flood.  Reassure your child that you are safe and God loves them.
  • When a child is being dishonest, tell them that you are more hurt by their dishonesty than by whatever act they are trying to hide.  Using age appropriate language, you can tell them the story of Ananias and Saphira who lied to the apostles in Acts or the story of Adam and Eve.
  • When a child is unhappy or suffering, you can help them turn their sufferings into an act of praise.  Talk to them about the Psalms and maybe sing a song of praise or two.
  • When you pray before meals, use it as an opportunity to talk about the many blessings you have.  Use meals as an opportunity to tell favorite Bible stories like the loaves and fishes.

3.  Teach Your Children about the Acts of Mercy

Think of creative ways to talk about the Spiritual and Corporeal acts of mercy with your children.  Younger children may understand the corporeal acts more easily, and as they age, you can introduce the corporeal acts.  Think of a way to perform these acts of mercy – perhaps do one act of mercy per month.

Corporeal Acts of Mercy

Feed the Hungry

  • Gather food around the house to donate to a food bank
  • Go to a homeless shelter and help cook and serve dinner
  • Prepare meals for new moms

Give Water to the Thirsty

  • Take your children to the store to buy bottled water to donate
  • Ask your children to collect coins to donate to an international agency that provides water to the thirsty like Compassion International
  • If you live in an urban center, walk through the city handing out water bottles to the homeless – make sure you are aware of your surroundings at all times!  If you can tape inspirational messages or instructions on how to reach a local shelter, all the better.
  • On a hot day, hand out bottled water to people you meet outside

Clothe the Naked

  • Collect old clothing to donate
  • Shop for discounted gloves and hats at the end of the winter season and purchase some to donate next fall
  • Save up money throughout the year in anticipation of Christmas – pick names off a giving tree and have your children help pick out clothes to buy for other girls and boys

Shelter the Homeless

  • Take your children to a homeless shelter to help out – cleaning or cooking or just playing with the homeless children
  • If your children know someone at school who is homeless, whose parents are away at war or in jail, or who live in a single parent home, encourage your children to invite them over to spend the night.
  • Invite people to your house for holidays when they have no family in town
  • Get a list of “needs” from your local homeless shelter.  Take your kids to the store to purchase the items on the list.
  • Become a foster parent

Visit the Sick

  • Visit a retirement home
  • Make meals for people in the community who are sick – have your children help with the cooking and delivery.
  • Write get well cards for people you know and strangers in hospitals

Visit the Imprisoned / Ransom the Captive

  • Find charities that minister to prisons by sending in ministers, donating Bibles, or collecting Christmas gifts for the prisoners’ children.  Look for ways to support their causes financially.
  • Find charities that work to help free enslaved people, such as Hope for Justice, and get involved – perhaps do a 5K as a family.

Bury the Dead

  • Visit a graveyard and place flowers on the graves of friends, relatives, and strangers
  • Say a prayer for the deceased
  • If your sons or daughters are altar servers, encourage them to serve at a funeral.
  • Answer any questions your children have about death in an honest and age-appropriate way.
  • If a beloved pet dies, either bury the pet or create a memorial for the pet in your yard.  Use this as an example to talk to your children about why it is important to show respect for the dead.

Spiritual Acts of Mercy

Instruct the Ignorant

  • Volunteer to teach your child’s Religious Education or Bible Study class.
  • Tell your children why you take the job of instructing them in the faith seriously.
  • Remind your children to be good students, listen politely, and be respectful to teachers.
  • Have your kids read and “teach” Bible stories to the rest of the family

Counsel the Doubtful

  • When your child is struggling with a decision, show him other adults in his life that can offer counsel: a teacher, a grandparent, a godparent.
  • Give your children thoughtful and well-researched answers when they come to you for advice.
  • Show your children where to find answers to questions – so that they can pass on wisdom to their friends – such as looking in the Bible, reading the words of saints and church leaders, or asking a priest or pastor.
  • Teach your kids to respect their friends and always be willing to listen or give a comforting hug.
  • As your children grow older, help them to know the difference between problems that can be resolved among friends and problems that are serious and need to be brought to the attention of an adult, even if their friends want to keep it secret.

Admonish Sinners

  • Talk to your children about sins (go over the 10 Commandments – see below).  Talk about situations where they might be tempted to sin and how to avoid giving in to temptation.
  • Correct your child’s behavior when she does something wrong.

Bear Patiently Those Who Wrong Us

  • Teach that retaliation is never the answer and to turn the other cheek
  • Discuss how your child can show love and kindness to someone who is being mean to them
  • When appropriate, talk to your children about behavior that can be borne patiently vs. bad behavior that needs to be reported to an adult immediately.

Forgive Offenses

  • Have your children write forgiveness letters to those who have wronged them (even if they never send them)
  • Model forgiveness in your own life – especially if you are wronged by close family members and friends

Comfort the Afflicted

  • Perform some of the corporeal acts of mercy
  • Give hugs to people who are crying
  • When reading books and someone is sad, discuss ways to make them feel better

Pray for the Living and the Dead

  • Include family members, strangers, friends, and politicians in your nightly prayers
  • When an emergency vehicle goes by, stop and pray for the people involved in the emergency
  • Model prayer life by dropping everything to pray with your child when he brings a concern to your attention
  • Pray in thanksgiving for blessings and healings
  • Point out answered prayers

4.  Teach Your Child about the 10 Commandments

When you sit down to discuss the morality of your child’s behavior, consider incorporating the 10 Commandments.  On the one hand, the 10 Commandments seem to cover some adult topics (like murder and adultery), but they also cover some of the most basic ways that we should interact with each other and God.

Turn, “Thou shalt not have any gods before me,” into a discussion about how we spend our time on Sunday, whether our possessiveness has gotten out of hand, and if it’s time to turn off the TV.  Remind your children that not stealing also means being generous with our gifts.  Look for age-appropriate explanations for some of the commandments and back them up with age-appropriate examples.

Be Age-Appropriate

But what about adultery?  How do you explain that?  I think there are a lot of age appropriate ways to explain it to a child (although for very young children you may just want to gloss over the concept).  You can talk about dating or kissing someone who is not your husband.  You can say how hurtful it would be if daddy kissed a woman who was not mommy.  Sadly, if you know of families that have been broken up because of adultery, you can mention that – as long as you do not do it with a vindictive or gossipy intent.  “A long time ago, grandpa decided he wanted to have another wife other than grandma, and that’s why they don’t live together any more.  That made your daddy very sad, and that’s God told us not to do it.”  Incorporate concepts of forgiveness into your discussion as well.  “But daddy has forgiven grandpa for leaving, and that’s why we still visit him at Thanksgiving every year.”

When you think about the 10 Commandments in terms a child could understand, it reframes how you think about them as well.  It can help you be a better Christian!  My sister taught her five year old what coveting was by saying, “It’s when you want something that someone else has so much that you cry.”  My mind was blown.  I thought of all the times I had cried recently – and sure enough, there had been some covetousness going on there.  Whether it’s a physical possession or a lifestyle, it’s so easy to fall into a covetous mindset.  I would have never held myself accountable for that if my sister hadn’t been teaching the 10 Commandments to her children.

5.  Answer Their Questions

Children are incredibly curious and are bound to stump even the most educated adult with their out-of-the-blue questions.  Sometimes your child may have questions based on the sermon or Sunday school.  Other times, you may just get a question out of right field.  Give your child your full attention as you answer their questions, including any follow-up questions they have.  But be honest with your answers.  If you don’t know the answer, tell them you will look it up and get back to them, or go look up the answer together!

As your child grows and experiences the world, she may begin to ask more questions about other faiths or adult behaviors.  Take some time now, while your child is young, to brainstorm ways you might address these questions.  No conversation will ever go strictly according to plan, but knowing what you believe will help you answer your child’s questions.

6.  Give Thanks

Take time daily to give thanks for your blessings.  When your child is going through a phase of possessiveness or grumpiness, sit down with her and talk about all the blessings she has in her life.  Make a list or even turn it into a craft – perhaps a tree where each leaf is a blessing.  Make sure your child knows the true meaning of holidays like Thanksgiving, but be thankful all year round as well.  If you’re struggling for things to be thankful for, start at the most basic – necessities like air, and then work your way up to luxuries, like our toys.

7.  What Would Jesus Do?

If may sound cliché, but it is never to early to introduce this concept.  Life is hard for children – they have so little control over anything.  Perhaps more so than adults, they have decisions throughout their day they must make about whether to be naughty or nice, polite or rude, attentive or a distraction.  Help your child make her own choices using her faith as a guide.  Ask her what Jesus would want her to do in any given situation.  Do you think Jesus would want you to play nicely with that other girl?  Do you think Jesus would want you to share your brownie?  Do you think Jesus would want you to lie?

Now I know from experience that as your children get older, this approach may backfire.  What would Jesus do?  Would he clean his room when asked?  No, mom, he would not.  He would be out preaching on the temple steps.  Expect that kind of sarcasm.  However, even when dealing with a moody teen or pre-teen, you can still use this cliché phrase as a way to talk about the faith with your child.  Didn’t your child just prove he’s been paying attention to your stories about Jesus?  If you have a genuine disagreement about what path Jesus would take, it builds a foundation for more Bible study, reflection, and prayer.

Don’t waste these good old days worrying about how you are going to teach the faith to your children.  Live it!  If you know what you believe and why, then your children will follow your example.  What ways have you found to talk to your children about their faith?

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