Some parents have joked that taking an infant or toddler to church is comparable to struggling in a wrestling match. Both parent and child leave the church with shirt tails hanging out, hair ruffled, and skirt shifted to the side. According to the latest research on brain development, this may be a battle worth the fight, for it could lay the groundwork for a rich life of faith.
Researchers have found that the environment has a tremendous impact on the brain “wiring.” Positive interactions with caring adults will stimulate the connections in the brain to grow, affecting how a child will learn and interact later in life.
While wrestling is not exactly a positive interaction, surrounding your child with positive, loving members of a congregation, including teachers, pastors, friends and families is valuable. These caring folks will spark the “connection” that wires your child to God and a life of faith. The solid foundation of love learned in the early years will decidedly influence your child’s actions and relationships later in life.
Just as intellectual or emotional development begins at an early age, so does faith development. Your job as a parent is to nurture your child’s faith, so that love and grace will support life’s journey.
Dr. Ray Pickett, Professor of New Testament, Lutheran School of Theology, in Chicago states it this way: “Life itself has many deaths and losses. There are poor grades in school rejection of jobs, struggles with friendships and intimate relationships, physical and emotional abuses, illness and death of loved ones. Parents and mentors should help children realize that God is with them in these struggles, leading them to new things.”
Professor Pickett continues: “Out of death, comes new life. A loss of a job leads to a better job, loss of friends lead to a better understanding of who they are, loss of people brings new connections to others.”
How then can you support your child’s faith journey – in addition to wrestle in church? Here are some ideas and observations worth considering:
- The faith of a young toddler is based on intuition and feeling. A child learns to trust and experience God’s love through your touch and the many ways in which you nurture your child.
- Pray daily for love, forgiveness, guidance, patience and humor. Your child will understand God as you receive and show these gifts of grace.
- Read simple books or sing simple songs about God’s love.
- Take your child regularly to church. It may be a struggle at this age, but children learn through repetition and routine. Church is where your child will meet others who care for God’s children.
- When you are in church, engage the child in the service. Help your child learn repetitive phrases such s “amen”, sit toward the front so your child can see, count the number of crosses the church, watch how people pray, etc.
- Teach your child simple prayers to pray at mealtime and bedtime and share stores of your faith.
- A child’s faith grows when you provide opportunities for practice. Helping with simple chores or helping people in need are two simple ways to show God’s love for others.
- Embed your faith into your family identity and lifestyle.
A child connected to Christ will experience the richness of love, grace, compassion and forgiveness. Why wait to teach your child about God’s love? Give this wonderful gift by “wiring their brain” with faith now.