By Michelle Donaghey
Every week whether it is a Sunday, Wednesday or another day set aside for religious services, parents everywhere often hear those words after telling their children to get ready for mass, service, temple or synagogue.
It doesn’t matter what your faith is or what your religious upbringing may have been like. Whether you are Catholic, Protestant, Muslim or Jewish, every parent takes on the responsibility of helping a child or children in their faith journey which often is met with resistance.
But how exactly should a parent help them as they grow, instilling in them a need to find their higher power and make a connection for life without using guilt-tripping tactics?
Proverbs 22:6 "Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it"
Learn more about your faith
Training a child from toddler years up to teens is not easy. But it is made even harder when a parent or parents do not even really know their own faith themselves.
In order to know and practice your faith within your family, you may need to do some studying yourselves, especially if you have not kept up through teaching children at your church, synagogue or temple. “For many parents, Jewish learning began and ended with Hebrew school. Given the richness, breadth and complexity of Jewish knowledge, learning about Judaism as adults is immensely rewarding because we have the intellectual sophistication and life experience to appreciate heritage,” said Rabbi Patricia Heller, Ph.D., “And You Shall Teach Your Children, reprinted with permission from Raising Jewish Kids, a Making Connections Home Study Kit, by Jewish Outreach Partnership, www.jopp.org
Rabbi Heller pointed out that adult education is not only available at synagogues, but at community centers, universities and museums. Other faiths have similar programs. Contacting your pastor, priest, or Sunday school teachers who may be able to help you out.
Decide what is important to you as a family
When you learn and review your faith and how you worship
, especially its rituals and traditions, review with your spouse what is of particular importance to you. Remember that your younger children will not understand many theological concepts of your faith, but they will develop their faith through words and actions and conversations with you and your husband/wife.
Think about why you stayed with your faith and its traditions. Think about what things that touched you as a child- maybe you remember Ash Wednesday, Sunday School or songs that brought good feelings? What about Sunday Mass or service? Did you feel disconnected as a child and why? Maybe you would have liked a livelier service? Or maybe a more active youth group? Exploring your feelings can help you to understand what may work and what may not work with your child or children.
Sometimes it may mean that you look for a church
of the same denomination in another town that has more to offer your family and its’ spiritual growth. Many make the mistake of thinking they need to stay with a particular church because of its’ proximity to their home. Often this can cause a child to grow up in a church he or she knows the family doesn’t feel totally a part of. Before deciding on a church out of town, be sure to talk to your pastor/priest/rabbi about your needs and concerns. They are always open to hearing from you!
Teaching your child how to worship
Going to church, temple or synagogue with children is very much different than the days you go as a newly married couple with none. Remember that children do not have the attention span adults do, especially as toddlers. Most religious leaders realize this if they wish to keep the flock coming every week.
“While it’s hard, you may have to realize that you will not be able to listen to every part of the service. Remember always, to teach your child the way to go, you have to take them there. You have to be the one to do it. Remember, the stage will pass,” said Reverend Susan Sickelka, a pastor from the First United Church of Christ. Many church leaders realize that parents often worry about how much noise their children make which is often not noticed as much as they think. “People are very occupied. Parents worry way to much about it. We encourage them to keep the children in worship as much as they can. While baby cries and toddlers talking can be distracting, we remember that Jesus welcomed little ones,” said .
Whatever your faith is, encourage your child to be involved. Give them a hymn book or let them pass the collection place or put in money. Try to teach them some of the songs so they can sing along. Purchase a children’s Bible or a prayer book so they can follow along. Sit up front so you can explain what is going on. Children who are two years old or younger may need to go in the nursery or in the baby/cry room if there is one available. Don’t berate yourself for doing it, either. Children of this age do not have the capacity to understand yet! If your church offers a Sunday service or Mass for children, take advantage of it and attend.
Discuss what the pastor or priest talked about right after church/synagogue. What was good? What touched you? Let your child tell their aunt or grandma what they learned. They will feel proud as well as have a connection to their faith by repeating it! They will also be more likely to listen the next time they attend!
The rest of the week
Mimi Doe, a writer on Spiritual parenting and a mother, feels that parents need to help their child connect regularly with their Higher Power.
“Spiritual parenting is not limited to any one religion; it is not limited to one set of beliefs. My goal in spiritual parenting is to encourage and support my own children’s connection with a loving God. Why? Because I feel that connection is an every available, always support system to my kids. God can be whatever they need God to be at whatever time. God won’t tell, God is always there, whether they are at a sleepover, or feeling left out at the cafeteria,” says Doe.
Help your children realize, too, that they have a connection to their faith outside of the building where they attend services, mass, synagogue or temple.
“As a family, write a letter to your pastor, thanking him for the ways he serves the parish. Do you like the way he stays to mingle with the people? Did the words at First Communion Mass or a funeral touch your heart,” notes the Saint Francis Seminary, Center for Ministerial Formation for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.
Other ideas from the seminary are good for encouraging family unity as well as faith connection.
Use Scripture as a starting point for family discussion around the dinner table. You can also as a family select a service project to do each month. This could be volunteering at church or a social service function such as a soup kitchen, visiting a nursing home or raking leaves for a neighbor.”
Remember that if possible you should start early in helping your child find their spiritual connection. “You must begin early in helping them to understand who they are as children of God and what their identity means to them spiritually. Seeing themselves as God sees them is the most important perception your children will ever have. If your kids don’t find their identity in Christ, they will find it in the world,” said Neil Anderson of Freedom in Christ Ministries, crosswalk.com.
Michelle Donaghey is a freelance writer and mother of two boys, Chris and Patrick, who are her inspiration. She lives in Bremen, Indiana just south of South Bend, home of Notre Dame. When she isn't writing, Michelle can be found in her perennial flower garden or working on small home improvement projects. Michelle has written for parenting publications including Metro Kids, Atlanta Parent,Dallas Child, Great Lakes Family, Family Times and Space Coast Parent and websites including iparenting.com.
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