Developing Faith in Children

Ask any children’s catechist about what they want from parents and after the eyeroll you will get a list of suggestions. Mostly, they look to parents to be the first educators of their children, introducing them to fundamentals of the faith, teaching them about Christ, memorizing basic prayers, going to Mass regularly. It is sad to see a child of six who can’t differentiate between Jesus and Moses and who does not know the Sign of the Cross. They want parents to be engaged in their child’s religious education, taking the lessons home, following up on concepts like conscience or virtues. The lack of parent interest leaves us with infantile curricula because it is tremendously difficult to get the kids to understand basic things when there is no follow-up at home. (There is only so much that can be covered in an hour per week.)

I think a lot of parents are more comfortable having the sex talk than the God talk. Faith is something deeply personal, of course, but it is also communal. Yet, outside of church there is often very little discussion about our relationship with God or even the basic History of Salvation. Stories about Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Noah, Abraham, and Moses are captivating for young listeners and prepare them, as God prepared his people, for the Good News. Stories about Jesus are compelling. Of course, the story of the Nativity is well-loved, as are accounts of His miracles. “Suffer the children to come to me,” affirms Jesus’ love for His little ones. A good children’s bible is all you need to have a meaningful storytime – and many parents make a few discoveries of their own in the process.

Prayer is essential to life, for all of us. We should pray as a family on a regular basis, at least by saying Grace Before Meals together. Parents should take time with their young children to teach them to pray at bedtime. This should include formal prayer, such as the Our Father, Hail Mary, and Glory Be, and also prayers of thanksgiving and supplication. In other words, teach children to turn to God with their concerns and to thank Him for His blessings.

And Sunday Mass. This really is the most important. Every Sunday, the family should attend Mass together. There are times when we might want to split our attendance over a couple of Masses, which is fine of course, but ideally it should be a family affair. It’s definitely a challenge with young kids – I probably went ten years without fully hearing a homily – but it is essential. “Suffer the little children to come to me.”

These are some of the reasons catechists feel frustrated in their efforts, but there are two sides to the coin. What do parents want from catechists? What makes their eyes roll? I have a few ideas (having worn that hat, too) but I would like to hear from my readers. Please use the comments feature below or tweet me @ParishHome1.

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