At first glance the title might seem crazy. Chances are you rolled your eyes, thought, "Yeah right, a two-year-old can't do that," or, excitedly you began to read...thinking that you will get the answers you have been looking for for your emerging preschooler. Whatever your reason, I will go ahead and tell you that I don't have all the answers. I have trial and error. Some have succeeded. Some have failed. From what I've learned in the past year, this is what has worked for us.
Before we jump in I want to encourage you, Mom, to keep pushing forward. Chances are, if you don't get it they won't either. You need to be a step ahead of your child so that when situations are presented you know how to respond with gentleness, compassion, and wisdom. Fortunately, we are all in this together, learning together, with the Spirit as our teacher.
This morning I was at my group meeting and one of the Moms said something that I regularly think: "I need to be doing more to teach and show my two-year-old Jesus, but how? He's only two" (paraphrased).
This made me think about tucking my 2.5 year-old into bed a few months ago. Every night I ask him, "Who loves you more than anyone else?" He always responds, "God does." One night he looked at a cute rabbit that was hanging on his wall and said, "Dat wabbit scawes me, Mama." After having him repeat it three times I realized what he was saying. For the record, it's eyes are a little creepy!) at that moment I looked him in the eye and said, "Where does God live?" He exclaimed, "Everywhere!" "Right," I said, which means that He is with you in your bed so you do not have to be scared." He said, “Tuck God in beside me so that he won’t let the rabbit get me.” Of course I ‘tucked God in’ beside him, smiled, and walked downstairs. With every step I thought, “What if I lived every moment with God tucked in beside me? Ready and eager for Him to speak to me and teach me, and for me to submit to His perfect will with every passing second.”
This is where it begins with our children. Submission. We must know God personally and intellectually to understand why we need to submit to Him.
1. Teaching him about God; His character, His attributes, His love, His presence.
We must first recognize that we can't know Jesus without knowing God because God and Jesus are one. Jesus said, "If you have seen me you have seen the Father" (John 14:9).
Knowing that God is everywhere, knows everything, and still loves us is the core of what our emerging preschooler is learning at home. Does he understand it all? Of course not. But is he learning the basics of what that means for his life? Absolutely!
2. Memorization: Prayer and Scripture
At just over a year old our son began to watch Boz. By 18 months he was reciting (with our help) the closing prayer at the end of the show. It says, "Thank you God as this day ends for my family and my friends. Taking time to sit and pray, thank you God for this great day! Amen." As he has gotten older we have taken this prayer and expanded it. We now ask him to tell us something that he is thankful for that happened that day. We also have him pray for a family member or friend who needs prayer and one who he is thankful for. Lastly, we have him thank God for the ability to pray to Him through Jesus.
If he has been disobedient we use this as an opportunity for him to confess his sin and ask for forgiveness. Likewise, if I lost my cool with him that day and have not reconciled with him, I do so at this moment. When this happens I hold his hands, look him in the eye, confess what I did, and ask him to forgive me. I never make excuses for my actions.
I pray in front of him and confess my sin to the Lord, and ask the Lord to forgive me. All of this is done with him right there. I want him to see me following Christ, not just hear me talk about it. What that means is that I must genuinely repent, asking the Lord to remove that sin and character defect from me so that the little heart in front of me does not see it continue to happen. He needs to see the cleansing transformation that happens when we live with God tucked in with us every day.
Scripture: We have a rhyming Bible for toddlers that is just incredible! In fact, I love it so much that I find myself reading it before reading my adult Bible. Not that I would endorse that, it is just that good! And the end of each story it has a 5-10 word bedtime prayer associated with the Scripture. I have found this to be a great way to teach him about locating passages/stories in the Bible, even before he can read, and teaching him to pray scripturally, in the midst of learning scripture.
Songs/Video: A friend of ours sent us a link to some videos which are scriptural songs. Meaning, they are animated videos of scripture (and only Scripture) in music format. What a great tool to use! These have been helpful for me, him, and our non-English-speaking 10-year-old.
In the middle of gnat-swatting, heat-stroke inducing August, he and I went to the grocery store. On the way home we stopped by the park. Walking from my car to the park we saw a homeless man sitting at one of the picnic benches. Billy Wayde eagerly wanted to ask him to play with us. Just as eagerly I redirected him to the big green slide. Shame on me. My redirection was not from the Holy Spirit, rather than from not knowing anything about this man.
As we finished at the park (and now had spoiled hamburger meat in the back of the car) he wanted to talk to the man some more. As I was loading him in the car the memory verse from our Chinese Bible study popped in my head, "It is better to give than receive." So, we went to the back of the car and I let Billy Wayde choose some of our groceries to put in a bag to give to the man in need. As he loaded the bag with bananas, bars, cheese, and bread, his eyes beamed with joy. He eagerly ran to the man, tripping over the bag with every step. When he got to him he said, "Are you hungry?"
At Easter last year I spoke to a mom who went around her neighborhood with her three children, the youngest being one-year-old, inviting her neighbors to an event celebrating Jesus' resurrection in our community. Some of the people they invited were kind and accepting, some had different religions, and some didn't answer. One of the families was Jewish and didn't celebrate Easter. While the two older children were perplexed, what a great opportunity this mom had to apply the truths of God’s word and teach her children more about Jesus and a different religion. She did it through words and actions - demonstrating his active love in us. Even the one-year-old will one day hear the story and learn from it.
I don't share this with you to brag about my abilities to teach or my son's abilities to learn. I share it with you to encourage you to know that as young as a toddler they can learn, through words and actions, what it means to be a Christian and how to defend Christ in a world that desires to kill Him…again (even though we know that isn’t possible).
4. Critical Thinking
What? My two-year-old can think critically? Well, maybe not…yet. But, he or she can be taught how to think critically, starting at this very important age. When my son asks me questions (and when he doesn’t), I ask him questions in return. It helps him learn to think about the world in which we live. Try it. The next time your child asks you a question about God, Jesus, or reality, ask them an age-appropriate question in return. Ultimately, you may have to give them the answer, but asking questions gives them time to think about the best possible answer at their current level of understanding. I would love to know how it goes when you try it. It is actually quite fun!
In closing, let’s consider Hannah, Samuel's mom (see 1 Samuel). After years of being barren and crying out to the Lord, she promised to give her baby to God if he would allow her to have one. God heard and answered her desperate cry with a baby boy. When she goes to the temple to give him to the priest, her three-year-old “worshipped the Lord” (1 Samuel 1:28). The word in Hebrew is shachah means to “bow down” or “prostrate oneself as an act of respect before a superior being.”(1) How else could this boy, barely old enough to speak clearly, have known to do this other than to see his mom do it?
It makes me wonder how much scripture this emerging preschooler would've had memorized by this time and quite possibly, how soon thereafter he could have reasoned with others about God.
Let's let Hannah be the encouragement we need to teach our children Scripture from before they can talk and show them active worship and service to God, our Master, day in and day out.
These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.
What are the things you are doing to teach your emerging preschooler to know and ultimately defend Christianity? I would love to know!
(1) Warren Baker, The Complete Word Study Old Testament (Chattanooga, TN.: AMG Publishers, 1994), 2363.
Victoria Harris holds an M.A. in Christian Apologetics from Biola University. Victoria is a lover of Jesus, a wife, biological mom of a preschooler and adoptive mom of a tween. She is a former Miss Florida Teen USA and Mrs. Florida United States. Follow her on twitter @VictoriaDHarris, Facebook at www.facebook.com/vdharris or instagram @VictoriaHarrisInsta.
Victoria is a wife, mom, ambassador of Jesus, and a lover of all things that involve learning.