Faith is an important part of many people's lives. It offers comfort and joy as well as a sense of belonging and purpose. Passing these gifts along to your children isn't something that just happens on its own, though. There are several ways you can teach them your faith.
Narrative is a great learning tool and a fantastic way to impart your faith. Every religion has its heroes, both mythical and historical, and the stories you tell about them can help children feel more connected to your beliefs. Choose age-appropriate tales for bedtime and explain the history behind holidays and rituals. You can start telling them these stories from the time they are born.
If prayer is a large part of your faith practice, it makes sense to pass this on to your children. Don't assume they understand how to do it, though. Talking to God may be too abstract a concept to grasp without guidance, particularly for younger children. Praying together before meals and at bedtime is a good way to show them how to get started. Encourage them to take the lead as often as possible, but make sure they know that prayer is not something they have to wait for anyone else to do. By including them in family prayers, you can teach them how to pray on their own.
Most religions involve an exhortation to care for others. You can start teaching your children to help others at an early age. Look for ways they can get involved:
- Visit assisted living facilities
- Collect donations
- Adopt a family during the holiday season
As they get older, opportunities for community service expand. Instead of just going with you to deliver canned goods to the food pantry, for example, older children and teens can actually help serve at the soup kitchen. They may even think of something you never considered before. If you instill the value of helping others in them when they are very young, they are more likely to seek out ways to serve the community on their own when they're older.
Your faith probably permeates every facet of your life. It's understandable, therefore, if the thought of teaching your children how to live out their own seems like an overwhelming task. This is why it is so important to keep the lines of communication open. Chances to talk about how your faith affects your decisions can arise every time you make a choice. Model making choices that match your ethics, and look for opportunities to clarify why you chose one option over all the others available. Saying these things out loud helps children discover how they can express their own values and beliefs in their everyday behavior.
No matter how openly you discuss your daily faith practices with your children, you are still only able to offer one person's experience. Being actively involved in a faith community allows children to meet a wide variety of people who live out their faith in other ways. Through regular attendance at services, they can learn to value different viewpoints and appreciate how they all work together to accomplish a common goal. This type of community also expands their support system, which can benefit them as they leave home to go to college and throughout the rest of their lives.
Teaching children how to live out their faith is not just having them memorize a list of rules. You want your children to experience the same richness your faith gives to you. While they must develop the practices that are most meaningful to them and establish their own values, teaching them the basics of a faithful life gives them a solid place to start.