This post is brought to you by Catholic Schools, Archdiocese of San Antonio.
As I enter my 31st year of teaching in Catholic Schools, I think about the question parents ask most: “How do I talk to my kids about God?” Even in today’s secular world, children will undoubtedly come across questions related to a higher power. To help, here are five tips to guide these conversations with young children.
1. The first thing to remember is that learning about God and faith is a process. For example, think about how children learn to eat! First, it’s breastmilk/formula. Then, purees and soft, chewable chunks. It’s a process. Learning about God is, too.
When you begin, your conversation will likely start with a simple response to a question about God and Jesus. This happens a lot during Christmastime with a question about the nativity or the “reason for the season” that a young child may overhear from an adult or older child.
Avoid the urge to delve too deeply into your answer. Instead, answer simply and plainly, “Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus.” Or, “Many families believe the birth of Jesus is the reason for the season of Christmas.” These simple responses are age-appropriate responses for young children ages 3–5 years old, and they will often be satisfied with the answer as an entry point into future, deeper conversations about God.
2. Teach through example. The Catholic Church believes that parents are a child’s first and most important teachers. As their first teachers, parents begin teaching about God through actions and treatment of others. When you treat others as you want to be treated, children observe the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” found in Matthew 7:12. Talk about forgiveness when your child breaks something or loses something, and never-ending love when a child apologizes for misbehavior and needs a comforting embrace.
At a baptism in the Sistine Chapel in 2017, Pope Francis told families, “But faith is also to trust in God, and that you must teach them, with your example, with your life.” When you talk to your child about God and faith, remember your child is watching your actions and reactions. Our pastor, Father Eric, always tells our students, “They’ll know you are Christians by your love.”
How are you acting when you are driving and someone cuts you off in traffic? Do you shout at the car? If you do shout, do you apologize and tell your child, “That person must be in a hurry. Let’s pray for them…”?
3. Pray and talk about prayer. If we truly believe and talk to our children about giving everything to God and knowing that He listens to our prayers, we start a foundation that God is our friend. We need to talk to God like we would any of our friends. You can teach your child to start a conversation with God. For example, “Hi, God, how are you doing today? I had a good day.” Then, continue talking to your children. When you pray, thank God for all the things in your life. Then, ask God to pray for someone or something. Keep things simple.
By doing this daily, it will naturally become routine. When your child wakes up, remind them to say, “Good morning, God! How are you doing today?” When they have a snack or lunch, remind them to say hello to God again and thank Him for the food and the people who helped prepare it. When you’re going to bed, say goodnight to God like you would your best friend and let Him know you’ll see Him in the morning.
4. Take kids to church. The coronavirus has really changed our way of going to Mass. Many people were viewing it online and continue to do so. At a recent Blessed Sacrament Lenten parish mission, Sister Mary Fagan said, “Our children have lost a year of being ‘shushed’ in the church.”
The majority of our Catholic Preschool students attend Mass weekly and begin to learn the simple process of listening and participating in this special church celebration. Mass and church manners are gifts of our Catholic schools to all children. It’s a place we can continue to partner with our parents as we teach respect and listening skills, often complex concepts for young children!
5. Bring God into your home. Young children need toys to remind them of God’s presence in your home. You can create a prayer corner in your home. Last year, I purchased a “Mary on the Mantel” to replace the “Elf on the Shelf.” Mary left a little note in her tiny tote set reminding the children to be kind to one another instead of naughty like the elf.
When selecting music at home or on the go, select Christian music or find a “Catholic Songs for Kids” playlist on Spotify. Maximize your time with layers of positive exposure.
These are five simple tips to incorporate conversations about God into your home. They need not be dogmatic or intense. More so, these conversations add dimension to the caring and loving perspective young children naturally have for life. In Catholic Preschool, we mimic this perspective with a growth-oriented curriculum that integrates Religious Development. You can learn more about our curriculum here.
12% of the students in our Catholic school system are not Catholic, and everyone, beginning in preschool, gets an opportunity to proclaim God’s word whether they are reading the liturgy or holding a sign at Mass, singing the responsorial Psalm, bringing up the offertory gifts, or singing the communion meditation in a group.
As a Catholic Preschool teacher at St. Luke Catholic School, I cherish that my teaching is a true ministry. I am privileged to talk about God and share my Catholic faith with my students. Not only do I minister to their academic needs, but I am trusted to nurture and care for them spiritually as well.
To learn more about the Catholic Preschool experience, please visit www.SACatholicSchools.org/preschool.
Loraine Driskill has been a Catholic School educator for over 30 years. She is currently a preschool teacher at St. Luke’s Catholic School, one of many Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of San Antonio.