In a world filled with noise, busyness and activity, how do we ensure that we prioritise quiet times with our children? Mother-of-five Alison Keddilty unpacks some common myths and offers helpful advice
What’s on your ‘to do’ list today? Laundry? Shopping? Returning library books? Teaching your pre-schooler about the omnipresent God? As parents, not only are we expected to develop ninja-like skills in baby-taming, toddler-wrangling and negotiating with a ‘three-nager’, we are also expected to pass on our faith to said small people and still have ours intact at the end of the oh-so-long day.
Sometimes ‘quiet time’ with our children comes way down the list of priorities for the day. But time spent praying, reading the Bible and worshipping God within the home environment is invaluable for our spiritual nourishment and transformation. Even Jesus needed quiet time. He often took the opportunity to retreat to a place of solitude and focus his attention on God the Father (Mark 1:35). This proactive approach to a relationship with God is also vitally important for our youngest children. If we, as parents, don’t take the opportunity to intentionally introduce our children to their loving heavenly Father, then someone or something else will be the loudest spiritual voice forming them.
If quiet time is important for young children, why aren’t more parents engaging with this practice? Here are three common myths.
Myth one: I don’t have time
21st century parents are busy and weary. Recent Care for the Family statistics (Faith In Our Families) show that the top two reasons cited by parents as barriers to nurturing a child’s faith are family time being devoted to other activities and not having enough time. I hear you. As a mother of five children, I think I must have a permanent harassed look on my face, and ‘tired’ is my middle name.
When asked, many parents admitted that there was something in their life they could cut out to make time for nurturing their child’s faith. Perhaps it’s checking the football score, a social media account, or even waiting to tidy the kitchen until the children are in bed. The statistic that only 50 per cent of Christian children grow up with a personal faith of their own (Sticky faith) is not one that I want my children to be part of.
Myth two: I don’t know what I’m doing
Does quiet time sometimes feel like the blind leading the blind? Even as a parent who grew up in a Christian household, I didn’t know how to nurture the faith of our eldest child when she was younger. But let me ask you this, do you remember the first time you changed a nappy, introduced solid food to your baby or embarked on potty training? None of us knew different weaning methods simply because we knew how to eat, so we can’t expect to know how to lead our children to Jesus just because we are Christians. Caring for a child and teaching them new skills often requires research and practice.
I found that the time-critical nature of caring for a baby’s physical needs was a strong motivator when it came to reading up on baby care. It wasn’t so much that I couldn’t work out how to care for a young child spiritually; it was more that I didn’t have the inclination to do so because I was too exhausted. And a baby doesn’t cry for prayer time, unlike a nappy change or a feed. The good news is that, as parents, we become experts in our children and teaching them. If we have the skills to find out about purées versus baby-led weaning, we have the ability to find out about discipling our children.
Myth three: my child is too young
Quiet time is a bit of a misnomer when it comes to children. Life with small children is messy, unpredictable and rarely quiet. We may have enjoyed silence and solitude in the years BC (Before Children), but if we want to nurture a young child’s faith, we may need to adjust our expectations of what quiet time is. Moreover, we may need to adjust our expectations of how quiet time happens. Even the youngest baby can enjoy quiet time and begin developing the most important relationship we will ever facilitate as parents.
Here are a few tips I have gathered over the past ten years as a parent that may also help you:
“We can’t expect to know how to lead our children to Jesus just because we are Christians”
Don’t go it alone
The saying goes: “It takes a village to raise a child.” While parents have the primary responsibility to nurture a child’s faith, it’s much easier if you have support from a church community (see page 30). I found that other Christian parents, particularly those who had children a few years older than mine, were a wealth of information and ideas. Likwise, older members of a church can be grandparent-like figures, ready with a cup of tea and an encouraging word, backed up by faithful prayer. If you are a mother and want some online support from other Christian mums, the ‘Captivated’ group on Facebook is a supportive community and its members are very knowledgeable when it comes to all things parenting. There are similar groups for Christian dads , such as Who Let The Dad’s Out.
Something is better than nothing
I have met so many parents who don’t engage in quiet time with their children because they “don’t know the right way to do it”. The other issue that stops people is the idea that it takes a long time. What if I told you that the attention span of a child is only about a minute per year of their life? Something extremely short can be very effective and is a great place to start. For example, when you tell your child: “I love you,” you can add on: “and God loves you too.” I’ve spent the last four years telling our daughter that God loves her, and today her response was: “I know, Mummy.” What better lesson could I have taught her?
Quiet time can happen anywhere, any time
God put the wiggle in the children. We need to stop thinking of quiet time as seated silence and solitude at a set time, and instead embrace a child’s natural sense of adventure. Our two-year-old looks at birds flying with awe and wonderment, so we talk about how God made the birds. Or, if we are out walking and see a ‘nee-naw’, we pray for the emergency services. Car journeys are also great times to pray together (just make sure you keep your eyes open!).
There are many ways to read the Bible
Finding a Bible that you and your child love is essential. There are board-book Bibles, Bibles shaped like teddy bears, Bibles with actions to do, Bibles with lots of words and Bibles with hardly any words at all. How you read the Bible will depend on the age of your child and the style of Bible you use. It’s never too early or too late to start. Newborn babies enjoy hearing the language as Bible stories are read to them and slightly older babies enjoy the pictures. If your child is old enough to show a preference about which Bible they love, then let them choose. They will be much more enthusiastic about Bible stories if they love their Bible.
My favourite resources to help explore the Bible with two to five-year-olds are the Beginning with God series of Bible reading notes, complete with stickers and ideas for chatting when out and about. I also love The treasure box people. If you want to set aside some time for craft and other activities, you can subscribe and get a treasure box each month, which contains a Bible-based book and everything you need for the activities.
Another simple and cheap idea is to sit down next to your child with your own Bible (and notes / journal / colouring book if you have them) and give them their own Bible and some paper and pencils. Young children love to learn by imitating adult behaviour, so modelling what Bible study can look like is very important. I never manage, nor expect, to complete my Bible study for the day like this, but we always have lots of fun and learn something together.
“ We may need to adjust our expectations of what quiet time is”
And many ways to pray
By the time it comes to bedtime, I am usually shattered and not patient enough to tolerate increasingly lengthy bedtime prayers. We have set prayers at bedtime, often reciting the Lord’s Prayer, with our older children joining in. At other times of day we use a variety of prayer methods. The key to praying with very young children is to keep it simple and interactive. We don’t worry about ‘hands together, eyes closed’ as it is so unnatural for children of this age and we regularly pray on the go. We encourage an open dialogue with God by praying as the moment takes us. For example, after the Grenfell Tower fire, our three-year-old was moved to pray for the firefighters and immediately seized the moment.
My favourite prayers with newborn babies happen during massage or bath time. As you pay attention to each area of the body, you can pray a prayer aloud. For example, you may pray that God will protect your baby’s mind when washing their hair, guard their heart when massaging their chest or that they will do no harm when clipping their fingernails. Bubbles are also fun to use when praying a blessing over babies. As the bubbles float down, you can pray for blessings to rain down from heaven upon your child.
Learning some sign language is great for praying with pre-verbal children. We taught our children the signs for please, thank you, sorry, Jesus and amen long before they could say them. There are lots of sign language video tutorials on the internet that are a helpful start to signing prayers. If you are not sure what to say when praying over a baby, playing some Christian lullabies such as Michael Card’s ‘Sleep sound in Jesus’ creates a soothing, prayerful atmosphere. What better way to fall asleep?
For two to five-year-olds, you can use everyday objects such as teaspoons, wooden blocks and playdough for more interactive prayer sessions. Teaspoon prayers are simple and popular with any age. All you need to remember is the recipe abbreviation for teaspoon (tsp), which becomes an acronym for thank you, sorry, please. Alternatively, get creative together by modelling something you are thankful for out of playdough or building blocks, praying as you create. This age group can also be enthusiastic about ‘catching prayer’ when they sit with their hands cupped and ‘catch’ pictures or words from the Holy Spirit. We discovered that our eldest daughter had prophetic dreams at the age of three. God gives gifts to young children, so why not use them?
They say that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. As parents, we have the privilege of joining our children on their first few steps in their faith journey. These first steps are just as thrilling as the first time a child tentatively toddles across a room with their parents cheering them on. Let’s have fun encouraging our children on the exciting adventure of faith and enjoy some not-so-quiet time.