Talking to Kids About God

July 5th, 2011

1. Keep it simple. Super simple.
God loves you. God loves me. God loves Daddy. And, yes, God loves your brother, who just stole your train. Repetition of these simple sentiments can be incredibly life-giving and important to children. Who is God? God is the one who loves you. God is the one who loves me. God is the one who loves us even when we are “bad.”

2. Try the indirect approach.
Let them catch us praying. They will demand to know what we are doing. Ask not to be interrupted. Similarly, we might try to talk with another adult about God. When the children interrupt the conversation, wanting to know what we are discussing, we can reluctantly tell them.

3. Drop hints and let them go.
We know that children who experience death don’t usually know what they have experienced until much later, often as long as six months, when they realize Grandpa really isn’t coming back. We need to be ready to talk when the children are ready to talk, on their own timetable. In a similar way, when we speak about God and children do not seem to be interested, we should simply let it go. They will find their own way to bring the subject back into the conversation.

4. Learn how to change the subject as often as children do.
We know a lot about children’s reactions to “the birds and the bees” speech. There is no shortage of parental humor about the subject. Many parents will mount the courage to start the conversation, only to find the children asking if they can have pizza for dinner. Similarly, conversations about God often confuse children in ways they don’t begin to understand. Don’t think they aren’t listening if they change the subject. Wait for them to come back. They will, on their own time.

5. Associate God with praise and good things.
When something truly beautiful happens, connect it to God. Say, “That rainbow reminds me of God, full of colors and kind of magical.” When a child shares a toy or cookie with another, comment on it. Say that this is what God is like with everything. Think like an advertising executive. Associate God with praise and good things. Children love to praise. They love to say “Wow.”

6. Do not associate God with punishments.
Avoid statements such as “You won’t get to heaven if you do that” or “God doesn’t love bad boys and girls” or “God is going to be angry at you.” If you are upset with your child, make it clear that you, not God, are the one who is upset. Your children already think you are God. Your job is to convince them that God is even stronger and more dependable than you are.

7. Do more listening than talking.
If we are doing all the talking, the conversation is not working. When you find yourself in this situation, exit quickly and try again. Aim for a 3-to-1 ratio, with the child talking three times as much as the adult.

8. Read what the Bible has to say about families.
You may want to read and consider passages such as Matthew 10:37; Mark 3:31-35; 1 Corinthians 7; Ephesians 5:21-6:4; 1 Peter 3:1-7. These passages have a lot to say about families and how we live together. Better yet, read and discuss the passages together.

9. Always say grace at meals.
Never eat without thanking God. You can use a book such as A Grateful Heart, by M. J. Ryan, which has dozens of lovely table prayers. Or you can make up your own grace. We use one that includes motions: “God be above us, and God be below us, God be all around us, and God be with our friends.” Then we name those whom we are concerned about or who are missing from our table. My children are sixteen and eighteen now and still insist on this grace whether we are at a restaurant or at home. When one of us is away, we name him or her, and we love knowing that we are being named when we are gone.

I’ll never forget the night at table when eight-year-old Jacob named Yvonne, a school friend. He told us that Yvonne’s mother had died, and so Yvonne couldn’t come to his school anymore. Without the prayer we wouldn’t have known that Jacob cared about Yvonne or her situation. With the prayer we got important information because we had a container for the information. The container was the prayer.

10. Speak from children’s experiences, not adult experiences.
You’d be surprised at the range of issues you can discuss with children as long as you express them in terms a child can understand. Instead of talking about alienation, insensitivity, and unhappiness, try asking: “Have you ever been in a place where you didn’t feel welcome?” “How does it feel when people are mean to you?” “Why do you think the lady behind the lunch counter had a frown on her face?” When we ask simple questions, we often will be amazed at the number of experiences children already have had.

Try telling stories from your own life. Once the story has worked its magic, we can be more conceptual: “People don’t like to go where they feel strange or aren’t welcome. Jesus understands. He tells the disciples to shake the dust off their feet if they go someplace where they don’t belong. It’s right in the Bible.”

Your stories may elicit stories from the children. You may find out something heartbreaking, such as their feeling that a teacher or coach doesn’t like them. Bring God into the hurt. Let children know that other people have been injured or lost. Make sure they know that no one can reject us without our permission. Most important, make sure they know that God loves them.


This article first appeared in Christian Education Ministries magazine.

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