“Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” Proverbs 22:6
At one month old, babies can fix their eyes on faces and respond to what they see. By one year, trust is developed. By age 3, a child’s brain is 80% the size of an adult’s. By age 4, they have a wide range of emotions. By age 9, their spiritual foundations are in place.
Children are impressionable from the moment they open their eyes, not only physically and emotionally, but also spiritually. Discipling them from a young age can shape who they become as adults. Childhood discipleship can take place in the preschool area, in Sunday school and, especially, in the home.
Diane Lane, Texas Baptists Childhood Specialist, has devoted a considerable amount of time to studying children’s behavior and spiritual growth. She shares some insight on how parents, nursery workers and Sunday school teachers can disciple children.
Put an arm around your child
It sounds simple, but a great first step to having enriching discipleship time with your child involves taking the time to sit down, put your arm around them, and ask, “How was your day?” Parents are often faced with battling screen time for their child’s attention, but pulling them away from distractions and looking them in the eyes for a genuine conversation will help them develop good verbal communication skills.
“People want this rigid A-B-C step, when it’s literally just spending time with and putting your arm around your child, no matter how old they are,” Lane said.
Start reading Bible stories from a young age
Start with picture Bibles for the babies, then move on to telling Bible stories and talking about the books of the Bible with your children, Lane advised. As they get older, teach them to value their own Bibles and read through their Sunday school lessons with them.
Consistently spending even five minutes a day with your child reading the Word together is vital to helping them grow spiritually and learn how to treasure the Bible.
Talk about God in your life
God’s work in your own life should be so much of who you are that it’s natural to talk about it and to create a comfortable environment so your child talks about Him, too.
“Talk about how important God is to you,” Lane said. “It’s not forced…It’s so much a part of who you are that you just logically talk about it.”
Be an example
Again, children are impressionable, and are always watching, which is why it is of utmost importance that we practice what we preach.
“When children see their teachers (or parents) worshiping, when they see them in choir, when they see them as ushers, when they see them out in the community being nice, that reaffirms what they are being taught on Sunday mornings.”
Involve children in missions
Another way to disciple your children is to involve them in mission projects. For instance: If the church is collecting mittens for less fortunate children, have the child go to the store with you, choose the mittens and place them in the cart.
“(The child) needs to touch it,” Lane said. “Missions must be a part of who the family is.”
Training a child up in the way he should go can seem like a daunting task, but it is all about being intentionally affirming and weaving faith into the conversation so children can grow into healthy, God-fearing adults.
“For me, in order for children to have the passion for Christ, the abilities and the desires to be Christ-like, we begin singing ‘Jesus Loves Me’ to them as babies,” Lane said. “We begin to model Godly characteristics for them in our everyday life. We demonstrate love to them by accepting them because of who they are today but also for the potential that their lives will be for Christ tomorrow.”
Lane suggested the following links as helpful tools for childhood discipleship:
- Zero to Three
- Search Institute
- LifeWay Christian Resources
- The Journal for Family and Community Ministries