Attitudes that a child learns during the first five to seven years of her life, become almost permanent. When the opportunities of these early years are missed, they are gone forever. If parents want a child to be obedient, kind, honest, faithful, unselfish, patient and God-fearing, they should make these characteristics the conscious objective of their early teaching.
1. Begin early. A child is most susceptible to religious training between one and seven years of age. Her concept of right and wrong is formed during this time, and her ideas of God take shape. Unfortunately, the opposite is also true. Depriving a child of spiritual training or subjecting her to the misapplication of it, severely limits her capacity to ever reach spiritual maturity.
2. Live out consistent Christian behaviour. Your child’s everyday experiences of life will influence her religious experience. If you want to incorporate spiritual values into her life, you must first exemplify them in your own life. A child’s visual image of God may include a blend of information from pictures she has seen and stories she has heard. Her understanding of God as a Father will be influenced by the relationship she has with her earthly father. The child’s idea of sin will be shaped by her own experiences of guilt and remorse-when after hurting others she has to face the resultant feelings of regret that follow punishment. Her ideas of forgiveness will be affected by her parents’ ability to forgive her. A young mind finds it very difficult to grasp forgiveness if the parents do not forgive her. To a great extent, parents stand in the place of God to a child.
3. Teach without preaching. A child asks questions from her earliest years, and parents have every opportunity to teach, instruct, and fill their child’s mind with the very best character-building material available.
Reading character-building stories to a child has two advantages. First, when you answer your child’s questions from good books, you are teaching without preaching. Second, you have given her time and companionship. Nothing indicates love to a child more than your personal, patient interest in her thoughts and questions.
During early childhood and school years, many religious teachings may hold little meaning for a child. That’s why parents must learn how to translate religious concepts into terms that their children can understand.
Substantial research has shown that until a child turns eight or nine, she is most interested in stories about the birth of Jesus and about the childhood of Biblical characters such as Moses, Samuel, Joseph and David. From nine to 13 or 14 years of age, historical portions of the Old Testament hold the greatest appeal. From then until age 20, an individual shows increased interest in the Gospels.
4. Family worship. A family that worships together already knows its value and benefits. ‘But we don’t have time’ is a familiar cry. However, a person makes time for that which makes the most to them. Set up a regular time for family devotions and make no exceptions unless absolutely necessary. Make the Bible interesting to your child. Have a prayer together, allowing each child to join in. Parents must lead their youngster to recognise that prayer is not so much for the granting of wishes or fleeting desires as for confession, repentance, thanksgiving, and praise. Additionally attending church regularly with your child will round off spiritual training.
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