If at times you feel incapable of being a parent, remember that if God has given you children, He has chosen you to be His example of love to them. Like every parent, you’ll make mistakes, fall short, and won’t have enough love in especially trying situations. You’ll misunderstand and misjudge. But God doesn’t expect you to be perfect, and He doesn’t expect you to bear the burden of parenting all on your own. He offers you help that will make up for your weaknesses and failures. That loving help is found in His Son—Jesus.
If you know Jesus personally, and have received Him into your heart and life, you have ever-present, unfailing help. You may fail, but Jesus never fails! As you learn to work in parenting partnership with Him, He will always be there to make up for your lacks. Together you can raise happy, well-adjusted children.
That doesn’t mean you will never again face difficulties in raising your children, but as long as you look to God for strength and the answer to each problem or question, He will be there for you and do those things you cannot do. He will help you be the very best parent you can be—the parent your children need you to be.
If you haven’t yet asked and received Jesus into your heart, you can do so right now by praying a simple prayer like the following: “Dear Jesus, I believe You are the Son of God and that You died for me. I need Your love to cleanse me from my mistakes and wrongdoing. I now open the door of my heart and I ask You to please come into my life and give me Your free gift of eternal life. Please also fill me with your Holy Spirit and help me to love others as You love me. Amen.”
Bring the little ones to Jesus
Bookstores these days are full of self-help books on parenting, and a lot of those books contain sound advice and interesting ideas. But unless they include God and His teachings and guidance, they can only help a parent so far. God, through His Son Jesus, is the source of all the good things your children need most—love, security, values, purpose. He’s also the source of the love, wisdom, strength, and patience you need to be a good parent. He wants to be their best friend and your parenting partner.
Jesus is the one solid foundation upon which to build your relationship with your children. As dearly as you love your children and as much as you want them to be happy and have everything they need, as much as you want them to have every opportunity in life, your human resources aren’t enough. Children not only need all the love, affection, security, and guidance you can give them, but also all that Jesus has for them.
It has been said that God has no grandchildren. Faith isn’t hereditary. Believing in God and loving Him aren’t choices you can make for your children. They will have to make these decisions for themselves. But you can certainly lay the foundation by showing them the way through your words and example, and by praying with them.
One of the most important things you can teach your children is how much God loves them. Children need to know that they are special to God. They need to learn that no matter what they may do, no matter what turns their lives may take, Jesus loves them and will always be there for them. Since your children will naturally look up to you in the same way you look up to God, in order to help them understand God’s love you should continually assure your children of your unconditional love for them. You are your children’s best proof that God loves them. You can direct your children to the Lord from the time they are born, just by your love and your example of loving Jesus and talking about Him. It’s a wonderful thing if your children can’t even remember a time when they didn’t know Jesus, because they’ve known Him all their lives.
Children can receive God’s gift of eternal salvation even at an early age, by praying and asking Jesus to come into their hearts. Receiving Jesus is so simple that even a two-year-old can do it! You can hardly find anybody more sincere or believing than a small child. That’s why Jesus said we must become as little children to go to Heaven (Matthew 18:3). As soon as they are old enough to pray the simplest of prayers—as young as two years old—they are old enough to receive Jesus.
As soon as you have taught your child who Jesus is (children’s picture Bibles are great for this), you can explain: “Jesus wants to come and live in your heart. He loves you very much, and He wants to be your best friend and stay with you always. If you ask Him to, He will come and live in your heart. Then He will never ever leave you! Do you want Jesus to come into your heart?”
You can then pray a simple prayer that your child can repeat after you, the best he can. Even if your child can only manage to say the last word or two from each phrase, that’s enough for Jesus, because it’s the heart that counts. Simply pray: “Dear Jesus, please come into my heart. I believe in You and want to love You like You love me. Please forgive my sins, and give me Your gift of eternal life. Amen.”—And Jesus will come in; your child will be eternally saved. That is God’s promise (Revelation 3:20; Romans 10:13). It’s as simple as that!
A Parent’s Prayer
Lord, who am I to teach the way
To little children day by day,
So prone myself to go astray?
I teach them knowledge, but I know
How faint they flicker and how low
The candles of my knowledge glow.
I teach them power to will and do,
But only now to learn anew
My own great weakness through and through.
I teach them love for all mankind
And all God’s creatures, but I find
My love comes lagging far behind.
Lord, if their guide I still must be,
Oh, let the little children see
The teacher leaning hard on Thee.
—Leslie Pinckney Hill
A child’s best friend
“Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them,” Jesus said, “for of such is the kingdom of God” (Mark 10:14). One way to help your children have a positive outlook on life is to instill good habits of praising and thankfulness to God at an early age. That’s part of building your children’s foundation of faith in and love for God, two of life’s most valuable lessons. Freely express your own gratitude and love for Him with a “Thank You, Jesus” or “I praise You” or “I love You, Jesus” when you see your children happy, or they learn to do something new, or one of their prayers is answered. Joyful praise is contagious, and soon they’ll be saying those things on their own.
Songs about how much Jesus loves them also reinforce a positive attitude of praise and thankfulness, and give your children’s faith a boost through the songs’ assurances of Jesus’ unconditional love.
Continually look for ways to reinforce the fact that Jesus loves them. The more you pray and praise and talk out loud with your children about Jesus, the more He will become a part of their lives.
Pictures of Jesus help small children visualize Him and remind them of His presence. Hang a picture of Jesus next to your child’s bed, or have a picture of Him that your child can handle and hold. Some small children even like to kiss a picture of Jesus when they stop to pray or thank Him for something. You could also place a picture of Jesus on a chair next to you when you read Bible stories together, to illustrate to your child that He’s there with you in spirit.
Small children should be reminded often that they make Jesus happy when they act lovingly and do what’s right. They also need to understand that they make Him sad when they act in an unloving, selfish, or hurtful manner. Be sure to reassure them, though, that even when they’re naughty, Jesus loves them and is quick to forgive.
Yes, Jesus is disappointed and displeased with bad behavior, but the Bible tells us that He is “slow to anger, and abounding in mercy” (Psalm 103:8). If we would only remember how patient He has been with us, we’d be a lot less apt to overreact with our children for their faults and shortcomings. Since very young children form their ideas about what God is like by what we are like, we need to be a sample of His love and not cause them to think that perhaps God has lost faith in them or holds their mistakes against them.
Once you have helped them see the error of their way, pray with them and give them a double dose of love and reassurance. Your children need to feel secure in the Lord’s love. They need to know that He loves them always.
Little children, little children who love their Redeemer
Are the pure ones, are the bright ones, His loved and His own.
Like the stars of the morning, His bright crown adorning,
They shall shine in their beauty, bright gems for His crown.
A parent’s best friend
Jesus also wants to be your best friend, as well as your mentor, your coach, and parenting partner. Just as children can be assured of His unfailing love and presence, you too can establish a sweet and close relationship with Jesus. You can speak to Him and He also wants to speak to you. He even wants to give you detailed, personalized, up-to-the-minute instruction to help you raise your children by speaking to you directly! The Bible says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths” (Proverbs 3:5-6). More and more parents are discovering that they can take their questions and problems to God in prayer and receive His answers directly as they learn to recognize His voice when He speaks to their spirit or puts thoughts in their minds.
Getting answers from God is not as difficult as it sounds. And don’t worry, you don’t need to be some sort of sinless saint or super-spiritual person. It’s simply asking, listening, and believing. Anyone who has accepted Jesus into their life, who makes the effort to listen and is sincerely open to whatever He has to tell them, can do it. “Call to Me,” He has promised, “and I will answer you, and show you great and mighty things, which you do not know” (Jeremiah 33:3). “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you” (Matthew 7:7). It’s yours for the asking!
The Lord speaks to different people in different ways. Some see visions, some have revelatory dreams, and a few actually hear an audible voice. But most often the Lord speaks to people in a still, small voice that is heard only by their spirit or in their mind. Sometimes it may be as clear as a spoken message, which you “hear” word for word. Other times it may just be an impression that this or that is the solution or the right course of action to take.
You just need to desire His guidance, ask Him to clear your mind of your own thoughts and wishes, ask Him to give you His leading or His wisdom, and then believe that the words or thoughts that come to you are the Lord speaking to you. It takes faith and a little practice, but if you want His guidance and solutions, He will give them to you. All the answers are simple for the Lord, and all the solutions are easy for Him, so tap into His inexhaustible reservoir of wisdom. He wants to give it to you, as the Bible says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally … and it will be given to him” (James 1:5). It can make all the difference in the world in how you relate to, interact with, and train your children. (For a more complete explanation of hearing from God, read Hearing from Heaven, in the Get Activated series.)
A little boy’s first Bible
Is the greatest thrill he’s known.
There’s a sweet, unique excitement
In a Bible all his own!
And yet my heart is smitten
As this touching sight I see:
Has his reverence for that Bible
Depended much on me?
As I see him with his Bible,
I bow my head and pray,
“May he always love that Bible
The way he does today.”
Then I hear a voice within me
Speak in solemn words and true:
“How he cherishes that Bible
Will depend a lot on you.”
I love my Bible better
Since I’ve seen the beaming joy
That this wonderful possession
Has afforded to my boy.
May I seek to give mine daily
A devotion he can see,
For the love he bears his Bible
Will depend a lot on me.
Teaching toddlers about God’s Word
God’s Word fascinates little children when it’s presented to them in a fun way. The key is to love the Word yourself. If you love it, they’ll love it. If you’re enthusiastic about it, they will be enthusiastic about it.
It might help to establish a set time to read or relate Bible stories to your children so that it’s not missed or passed over during your day. But don’t let that time become a dry, boring routine. Keep it lively, exciting, varied.
One fun approach to teaching the Word to little children is to help them visualize what you are saying. Act out the story or have them act it out, or illustrate the story as you tell it, using simple stick figures. Almost anything can help children visualize the story they are listening to: toys, rocks, sticks, leaves, Lego figures, paper dolls, ordinary household items—whatever is handy. Children have wonderful imaginations, and once you help them “see” the story, they will more easily grasp the lesson. Many good Bible storybooks are available, and most are full of colorful pictures that catch and hold a child’s attention. Flannelgraphs are also an excellent teaching aid. Some of the best stories for teaching children come from the four Gospels: the birth of Jesus and His childhood, miracles of Jesus, the parables He taught, and His adventures with His disciples. (See the listing of Bible story favorites for little children in the “Bible Story Checklist” found in the “Bible Study Activities” section on page 59 of this booklet.)
Singing simple Scripture-based songs is another way to reinforce Bible story lessons. (Examples of such songs are found on Great Adventures, a two-tape series of Bible story songs for children; and the Songs of Life series, with some of the most important and basic verses in the Bible put to catchy tunes that will make it easy for you and your children to learn them by heart.)
It is important, of course, to teach your children the difference between what is fact—Bible stories and other nonfiction you read with them—and what is make-believe. They need to learn that while much of what they see in movies or on TV, or read in other storybooks is fiction, the Bible is absolutely true.
Bible memory time
It’s easy for little children to commit Bible verses to memory if you teach them in a fun way. If you have read Keys to Baby (another booklet in the Keys to Parenting series) you may have already started your little one on the Baby and Toddler Verses and Quotes included therein. For toddlers and preschoolers, memory verses are included in the last chapter of this booklet.
You will be surprised at the difference in behavior that soon becomes apparent once your children learn even a few Bible verses. You should help your children realize that they are learning God’s Word, that it is true, and that they make Jesus happy when they learn His Words and obey them. If they do something unloving, you can remind them, “That wasn’t a very loving thing to do. Remember what Jesus said?” And they can help you quote the verse, “Love one another.” Or if they are worried or afraid, you can remind them: “Don’t be afraid. Jesus is taking care of you. You are His little sheep. Remember, ‘The Lord is my shepherd.’” You will no doubt find many opportunities to bring their memory verses to life.
If you are unsure how to go about teaching your little one Bible verses, here are some pointers contributed by a young woman who was caring for a two-year-old:
Scriptures about teaching children the Bible
Deuteronomy 6:6-7 And these words [of God] which I [Moses] command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up.
Deuteronomy 11:18-19 Lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul. … Teach them to your children, speaking of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up.
Isaiah 38:19 The father shall make known Your truth to the children.
Joel 1:3 Tell your children about it, let your children tell their children, and their children another generation.
John 21:15b “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Feed My lambs.”
2 Timothy 3:15 From childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise [unto] salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.
Teaching toddlers to pray and praise
Little children love to pray. They love to explain their ups and downs, and they love the fact that Jesus listens to them. Others may at times be too busy for them, but Jesus never is. He’s always sympathetic and able to see the world through their eyes.
Encourage your child to pray. Help him get started, and gently guide him, but be careful not to impose grown-up formality or solemnity on a child who’s perfectly happy doing what comes naturally—being himself with a friend who’s fun and always just what your child needs Him to be.
You can teach your young children to pray even before they can talk, if you keep your prayers simple and on their level. You can hold their hands or have them fold their hands. Encouraging children to close their eyes when they pray can sometimes cut down on distractions during prayer, but they can’t be expected to keep them closed very long. Keep your prayers short and upbeat: “Dear Jesus, bless this food. Thank You for it.” “Dear Jesus, please bless Daddy as he goes to work.” “Thank You, Jesus, for this beautiful day. Please be with us as we go out to play.” Pray with your child when he scrapes his knee or loses his favorite toy, and he will feel the Lord’s comfort and love, as well as your own.
Avoid praying when it means postponing something that they want to do right now! Don’t try to squeeze in a prayer before a treat that they can already see and almost taste. They need to learn patience and they need to learn to pray, but don’t mix the two lessons, or you’ll give prayer a bad reputation. Prayer should be fun. Pray a prayer of thankfulness with them as they are enjoying their treat: “Thank You, dear Jesus, for giving us this yummy snack!”
Little children have great faith. They don’t have to know all the reasons or principles behind why they should pray, why they should give thanks and praise to God, or why reading the Word is so important. They just need to know that they need Jesus’ help, that He loves them and that His Word is true. They just need to learn that faith in Jesus works. That’s enough for them. And the Lord loves to answer their prayers! He’s perfectly capable of doing anything they ask, but He doesn’t always answer right away or exactly the way they want Him to.
This is why some parents are reluctant to teach their children about prayer. They don’t want their children to be disappointed or lose faith if a prayer does not seem to be answered, and they don’t want to be put on the spot to answer questions that they feel they can’t. The solution is not to avoid praying in such situations, but rather to be prepared with some answers. Here are a few for starters:
* God usually expects us to do our part, before He does His. For example, if your child has lost a toy, pray with him and then help him look for it.
* Some answers take time. That scraped knee, for example, will probably take some time to fully heal, even after your child prays for it.
* Some of God’s other reasons for seemingly not answering prayer are harder to explain: It may not be the right time; God may be trying to teach your child patience or some other lesson; what your child is asking for may not be good for him; God may limit what He will do in this situation because of choices other people have made; or there may be other factors that even you are not aware of.
* Sometimes Jesus answers prayer with a “yes,” sometimes with a “no,” and sometimes with a “wait.” But one way or another, He will always answer prayer. Help your children to learn to trust the Lord in spite of disappointments and postponements, and you will have done one of the most important things you can to prepare them for life.
One of the best ways to encourage children’s faith is to talk about instances where God has clearly answered prayer, either in the Word, in their own lives, or in the lives of others they’re close to. Have they prayed for an older brother or sister who was sick but is better now? Did the Lord help the baby stop crying after they prayed for her? Did they get to go to the circus or do something else they had prayed for? One good way to make prayer fun and teach children about answered prayer is to help them make a list of the things they pray for and when, and then add the date when the Lord answers each one. (The “Bible Story Checklist” in the Bible Study Activities section at the end of this booklet has a listing of several examples of answered prayers that are recorded in the Bible for our encouragement.)
“Listening to Jesus” time
Besides giving your children a foundation in the written Word—the Bible—it’s also important to teach them the importance of receiving the living Word straight from God. (See section “A parent’s best friend,” on page 48.)
You can begin to teach your children this principle when they’re very young. Sit down with them and together ask the Lord to answer questions that you or they have. Pray together with them and ask the Lord to clear your heart and thoughts of your own ideas, so the Lord can pour through His counsel. And then trust that God has promised, so you will receive (Matthew 7:7). The Lord’s answers probably will not be long and involved. The Lord keeps things real simple for children.
A young woman who was caring for two children of missionary families, both two and a half years old at the time, taught them about asking the Lord for help in solving the practical problems they ran into. She wrote:
One day Trevor and Olivia were fighting over a cushion they both wanted, so we all stopped and prayed about it. I told them I was going to ask Jesus what they should do. I had pen and paper in hand, and prayed aloud for the Lord to tell each of them what they should do. As I heard the Lord speak to my heart, I wrote it down and told the kids what Jesus was saying to them.
The verse the Lord gave me for Trevor was, “Wait on the Lord.” We talked briefly about that, and what it meant in this situation. Then I prayed about what Olivia should do, and Jesus said, “Be kind and don’t keep it for yourself the whole time.” Then we discussed that. She was ready and willing to give the cushion to Trevor right then, but she was very happy when she realized that Jesus said she could keep it a little longer. Trevor waited patiently, and got his turn soon.
Those simple answers may sound like something I just said off the top of my head, but I honestly hadn’t thought of that solution and didn’t know what to do. Both of the children understood it all so clearly, and it went over much better than when I’ve tried to work out similar situations on my own. Jesus made it easy for all of us!
Another day while the kids were having a snack, the thought came to me to ask the Lord if He had anything He wanted to tell the kids, and I told them I was going to do that. They sat quietly while I wrote down what the Lord gave me, and then I told them. Jesus said such cute little things to them that brought smiles to their faces.
To Trevor He said: “Let your light so shine. Let Jesus shine in you. In everything you do, let Jesus shine through.” Trevor really liked that because it rhymed.
To Olivia He said: “Be happy because I love you. You don’t have to worry and cry, because you’re My sweetie-pie.” She liked Jesus calling her that cute name.
Tell the [young] boys and girls that the truths they feel deep down in their hearts are the real truths. God’s love speaks to us in our hearts and tries to work through us in the world. We must listen to this voice. We must listen to it as to a pure and distant melody that comes across the noise of the world’s doings. Some say, “When we are grown up, we will listen. Now while we are young, we would rather think of other things.” But with the voice of love, with which God speaks to us in the secret places of the heart, God speaks to us when we are young so that our youth may be really youth, and that we may become the children of God. Happy are those who listen.—Dr. Albert Schweitzer (1875-1965), German-born philosopher, physician, missionary to west-central Africa, and winner of the 1952 Nobel Peace Prize