Do you want to teach your child about God but aren’t sure how to do it? If you’re reading this, you likely desire for your kids to grow up with strong character and a solid relationship with God. But how do you teach your children about God without encouraging religious moralism or implying God loves them more when they behave well?
“Religious moralism is an emphasis on proper moral behavior to the exclusion of genuine faith… Christian moralists tend to reduce the Bible to a manual for moral behavior…”
Phil Vischer, the creator of VeggieTales, bemoaned how easy it is to fall into that trap: “I had spent 10 years trying to convince kids to behave Christianly without actually teaching them Christianity. And that was a pretty serious conviction. You can say, ‘Hey kids, be more kind because the Bible says so!’ But that isn’t Christianity; it’s morality.” Phil then wrote this book for kids as a kind of “do-over” to teach them about God’s love and grace.
Research shows that roughly 50% of students walk away from the church after they leave high school. Research also confirms that it’s never too early or too late to start developing a faith that continues to grow and lasts.
If you are curious about simple ways to teach your child about God and have a faith that “sticks,” read on.
One mom’s struggle to teach her child about God
Laura was stuck. Though she was passionate about bringing her boys up “in the training and instruction of the Lord,” she could tell that her oldest son Connor, at only 4, was already getting “exasperated” by her reminders….“God wants us to: be kind, share, be respectful, be responsible, and blah blah blah.”
Laura recognized she was infusing the process with her own anxiety about her son’s spiritual growth and probably also a selfish desire for the ease of nice behavior around the house. After all, who wouldn’t love to have children filled with “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness and self-control”?! (Not to mention how impressive that would be.)
But fortunately, when kids sense us parenting out of anxiety or selfishness, they usually resist and make it easier for us to realize what is going on in us under the surface.
At best, Connor only tolerated dinner-time prayer, and other times even seemed to enjoy interrupting it loudly. She was rightfully concerned about his growing lack of interest in her spiritual guidance. She didn’t know what to do. For Connor, God was becoming The Great Disapprover of all things childish and misguided.
Perhaps you want to bring scripture to life for your kids without making God out to be The Great Disapprover. Like Laura, this takes honest reflection about how anxiety over the need to raise “good Christian kids” might be getting in the way.
Teaching kids about God takes insight, creativity, and humility, as you listen to God’s Spirit. Are you ready? It’s worth it.
Here are a few helpful tips to teach your child about God:
Psalm 19:9-11 declares, “The judgments of the LORD are true; they are righteous altogether. They are more desirable than gold, yes, than much fine gold; Sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb… In keeping them, there is great reward.”
How would your kids know this is true for you?
- Do you joyfully share encouraging wisdom from the Bible?
- Do you mention how the Bible helps you in your daily life?
- Share something you’re anxious about and how Philippians 4:6-7 has helped you in past struggles. Invite your kids to join you in prayer as you bring a current concern to God with gratitude and expectation.
- When you’re discouraged because you’ve blown it, share your favorite verse about God’s forgiveness.
- What’s been a challenge you’ve overcome? Tell your kids about it and share 1 John 5:4.
- When your unconditional love solidly lands on your child, share 1 John 4:7 and help them know that your love for them is the overflow of God’s love.
- Are you excited when you learn something new from the Bible that strengthens your faith?
- Do you share some of the numerous promises of God in the Bible and how they are always true?
It’s not your job to convict your kids of sin, it’s the job of the Holy Spirit. But you can model for your kids the process and value of being convicted by God. Your humility grows tremendous influence with them.
Let’s imagine you lost patience with your kids and yelled in frustration, maybe even shaming them in the process. And then the Holy Spirit convicts you. Share that holy moment with your kids, and even celebrate the blessing of reconciliation. Our best parenting leaves our kids eager for the conviction of the Holy Spirit.
One mom was stuck in focusing on everything her son did wrong that morning. She apologized and said, “The Lord convicted me about how critical I’ve been this morning. I didn’t even notice the good stuff you’ve done. Philippians 4:8 says, ‘Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.’ I want to do that more.”
Her son quickly replied, “I LOVE that verse!!!”
Of course, kids learn about the love of God best in the context of a warm connection with you. But no worries, when that’s not happening, your confession can be a wonderful example of God’s grace and mercy. In your children’s eyes, God is looking pretty good when He cares enough to help you to be more kind to them. 🙂
3. Notice when your child exemplifies a spiritual quality
These might be the very things your child struggles with: be kind, share, be respectful, and be responsible. Help your child see what joy those qualities or actions bring and how those qualities can bless others.
One day, our son Noah joyfully fixed and served Jim breakfast. Lynne playfully paraphrased Luke 22:27 – “For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as the one who serves.” Noah grinned as Jim pretended to be upset that the guy getting the breakfast was less cool because the server was acting like Jesus.
4. To teach your child about God, spark their curiosity!
Curiosity is a powerful learning tool to teach your child about God. You can simply ask thought-provoking questions during your conversations and listen to the answers they give. And try not to give them the answers. Do this while gently guiding children toward sound thinking about God’s character. (How is God like the wind? Why do you think God made mosquitoes? etc.)
Linda would often read from a book about kids’ questions for God while they had breakfast. She would encourage a lively discussion without simply “reading the right answers” so that her kids would be eager for the next morning’s conversation.
Once you have frequently helped children view God’s word as inviting and encouraging, then you have a platform to begin to use it for gentle, loving reproof occasionally. But be very wary of any tendency to selfishly manage kids’ behavior with Bible verses or “Jesus is disappointed in you” kinds of messages. Use scripture to model, plant seeds, and set the stage for God to woo kids toward repentance with His great kindness. (Romans 2:4)
A change in heart: from perfectionism to grace
Laura wrote to me again several weeks after our conversation. She was no longer using the Bible to try to get better behavior from her kids. Instead, she let the Bible change her own anxious perfectionism toward her children and replace it with growing grace. She was now having fun talking informally about all she was learning through different Bible verses and how she was growing in her relationship with God.
“As I’ve lightened up and not put so much pressure on them to participate in Bible lesson time, there have been a lot of opportunities where they ask questions out of the blue about God and spiritual beliefs. Connor actually wanted to pray the other day at dinner! I am remembering that God is able to do a work in their hearts apart from (and even in spite of!) my misguided efforts.”
God’s word is a precious gift. Be careful not to use it as a behavior management tool. Instead, teach your children about God by showing the joy that your faith brings you! This can spark your child’s curiosity about God and His great love.
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