My son looked at me wide-eyed. He’d clambered up the big climbing frame but didn’t know how to get down. “Mummeeeee!” he cried. “You’re fine,” I said. “Look, there’s a safe place for your foot here...Hold on to that bit there...One step at a time.” As his feet hit solid ground he looked up at me and beamed. “I did it!”
Parents learn to coach their kids in everything: crossing the road, learning to share and managing their emotions. Over time, they learn to spot when their child needs help and will guide them through the next step. Yet when it comes to kids’ spiritual lives, parents often feel they don’t have the skills or confidence to coach their child’s connection with God. So Rachel Turner, founder of Parenting for Faith, has created five key tools. These tools enable parents and carers to help the children and teens in their lives to meet and know God in the everyday. You can keep these tools at the back of your mind, ready to apply to whatever the day holds. And they don’t require extra devotional times or bags of craft resources. So what are they and how can we use them?
Showing kids an imperfect, real relationship with God
This tool builds on the way we learn many things: by watching and then trying it out for ourselves. Children learn to talk, cook and handle a phone by watching the adults in their lives. In the same way, they can learn to connect with God by seeing how we do it and giving it a go. You don’t have to share every detail of the ups and downs of your life with God with them. You can just show them a glimpse to give them an idea of how to have a real, two-way connection with him themselves.
I’m in a season of life where, when I can, I grab ten minutes with God when I put my youngest down for a nap after lunch. I make a cuppa and stick some worship music on as I write down what’s on my heart and what he’s saying to me. I’ve deliberately let my eldest see this. By watching, asking questions and copying, she has created her own version where she sometimes sits beside me and draws what God shows her. Other days she carries on with her own thing. Either way, she notices the change in me and has learnt a way to connect with God that she can use and adapt for herself.
Try it out
Take something you do to connect with God, such as praying, worshiping or reading your Bible. Think how you could make it more visible to a child in your life. Could you pray out loud rather than in your head? Could you read a hard copy of the Bible rather than on your phone and leave it out? Could you stick a verse that is helping you at the moment on the fridge? Or leave the door ajar while you’re praying with a friend?
Seeing God in the big and small things of life
Sometimes children can know a lot about God but don’t see what he has to do with everyday life. Framing is all about explaining what God is doing, why things happen and who he is. This tool teaches you to notice opportunities, wherever you are, to help children see how God fits into what they are seeing and experiencing. That might mean pointing things out or exploring their questions. It could be inviting different people to share what God is doing in their lives. You can also use Bible stories as framing opportunities by wondering together about how the characters would have been feeling and what God was doing as you read them.
I’ve found this a particularly powerful tool to use in church services. Whispering to my children what the words of the songs mean, pointing out how different people are choosing to worship and answering their questions in the car on the way home help them understand what is happening. Taking the time to pause and explain can help them engage so much more.
Try it out
Share something challenging that has happened in your life. How did you approach it? Where was God in it? How did he guide or help you?
Invite the children in your home or Sunday session to ask you anything about life and faith. You can get a simple plan for approaching any question at parentingforfaith.org/post/questions.
Joining the dots to find a big picture of God
This is an important tool to help kids develop a balanced and healthy view of God. It can be easy to see or hear something from friends, family, school or the media and draw wrong conclusions about who God is and how he operates. This tool will help you spot where there is a muddle. Then you can unwind misconceptions by sharing Bible stories and verses along with real-life examples that give a broader picture of God.
When my children started nursery they both struggled with separation anxiety. We reminded them that God was with them even when we weren’t. Several days in, my daughter came to me and, accompanied by great sobs, announced: “I’m going to be brave. I don’t need God with me any more; he can be with [her brother] instead. He needs him more.” It turns out I’d failed to mention God’s omnipresence! It was great to share the good news that there isn’t a worldwide waiting list for his attention.
Try it out
Ask a child or teenager to draw a picture of God or to choose only three words to describe him. Chat about what they’ve drawn or chosen, and see if they are focusing too heavily on certain aspects of his character. Introduce them to Bible stories, verses, songs or examples from people you know that highlight areas of his character they are less aware of. Let’s say that they see God as busy and distant. Remind them of his promise to always be with us and his invitation to cast our cares on him (1 Peter 5:7). Maybe share something you were worried about, which seemed small and insignificant. Say that you shared it with God and explain how he helped you.
Chat and catch
Helping kids hear God’s voice and speak to him in their own way
This tool encourages children in prayer and in hearing God’s voice. It allows them to chat to him about everything that is on their hearts and catch his response in whichever way he chooses to speak. You can do this by creating windows and framing the way you pray. It may also help to offer them prompts, ideas and suggestions of what to chat to him about and questions to ask him.
Some children’s leaders make space for this in their Sunday morning sessions. It’s a great way to allow each child to pray in their own way without the leaders jumping in and doing all the talking or interpreting. You can use a simple question, such as: “What game would you like to play with me?” and give them the space to write or draw their responses. Every time I do this I’m amazed by the diversity of what they catch. God speaks so specifically into their lives in a way that they can understand.
Once children and teens realise they don’t need an adult guide or formula, they become equipped to communicate directly with God, whether in the playground, on their bikes or in bed at night. It doesn’t matter whether the conversation is in their heads, whispered into a pillow, shouted out loud, or written or drawn out. The key thing is that we enable them to have two-way communications with God in a way that works for them.
Try it out
Throughout the day, suggest ideas of things to chat to God about: big and small, happy and sad, funny and scary. It could be what they would put on an ice cream sundae or how they felt when their friends excluded them.
Explore the different ways people catch God’s voice. It may be a thought, a feeling, a mental picture, a wise word from someone or a Bible verse. Ask God a question and see if you can catch an answer.
Surfing the waves
Joining kids as their interests and emotions flow in new directions
This tool helps us spot what God is doing in a child’s life. All children are different, and God’s purposes for them are also different. They might be into dancing in worship one minute and then decide they hate this but love to sit in silence with him. Maybe they’ve started to ask questions about a Christian book you’re reading. Surfing the waves is about learning to spot when they are showing an interest in something, then coming alongside them to support and encourage that for however long the wave lasts.
Try it out?
Consider what your child is showing an interest in right now. What sort of stories are they interested in? What do they have questions about? What makes them angry? For example, for a teenager who feels strongly about injustice you could offer an opportunity to raise money or serve as part of a local project. You could research some relevant Bible passages to look at together and help them catch what God might be asking them to do about it.
Making the offer
Years ago I tried a Pilates class. I didn’t understand how to do the exercises or what they were for, so I spent most of the session staring at the ceiling, feeling out of place and bored. I considered it a waste of a fiver and 50 minutes, so I never went back. Fast forward several years, being pregnant did crazy things to my body, so my GP advised me to give it another go. This experience couldn’t have been more different. I loved it! It was exactly what I needed. The instructor was fun and relaxed, and she got to know me and the specific issues I wanted help with. She chatted with me and offered alternatives when I didn’t feel comfortable. In the same way this second instructor offered me ideas, how might you offer these tools to other parents in your church?