Sunday, April 22, 2012

Teaching little ones to know and love Christ

We all want our children to be loving and kind, and not just so they'll stop pulling so many tantrums. For me, my greatest measure of success as a mother would be to raise a child who is not only loving to all but generous, happy and peaceful. This is just one of the reasons my husband and I have made it a point to teach our son about Jesus Christ at a very young age: so he will know in whose footsteps to follow.

As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we are told to teach our children while they are young, even in their infancy. It's very noble advice and wise counsel, but when I finally became a mom I was perplexed at just how to accomplish this feat. I wondered, am I supposed to read the scriptures to him? Do we ignore Santa Claus and focus only on Christ's birth? How I teach him about the crucifixion and resurrection? How do I get a young mind to understand Christ's divinity?

All these questions and more plagued me until I lost sight of the point. But little by little I realized that teaching children while they're young isn't so that they'll get a head start on theological knowledge. The point is to introduce our children to the greatest role model they could ever follow, and to remind us as parents the qualities we should be instilling in our children — and emulating ourselves.

At the core, teaching our children about Jesus is teaching our children about unconditional love, generosity, sacrifice, patience, kindness, service, devotion, and many more virtues that Christ embodied. Beyond that, we are laying a foundation for a loving relationship between our children, Jesus Christ and our Heavenly Father. We are showing them the path to eternal joy by teaching them whose example to follow.

You will find, as we have, that as your children grow they will know Jesus by sight and take an interest in what you say about him because they are familiar with his loving face. What's more, they will hear the fondness with which you talk of Christ and know from this alone that he is a very special person, one we should pay attention to and want to be like.

There are a million ways to go about this, but here is how we started teaching our son about Christ. My husband and I are forgetting the big, complicated stuff for now. At the beginning, we simply began an introduction. We show him pictures of Jesus at church and in our family's homes. We sing Primary songs to Evan before bed. At Christmastime, we sing songs about Christ instead of Santa Claus. We take occasional visits to Temple Square in Salt Lake City and let him touch the Christus statue (which is stunning. If you haven't been, or it's been a while, go!). 

It was Evan himself who reminded us we did not have our own picture of Jesus at home. When he was about 16 months old I rearranged our living room and hung up some new pictures, one of which was a black-and-white closeup of the Statue of Liberty. He pointed to it and excitedly said, "Jesus!" After explaining that no, it was not Jesus, I knew it was time to take Evan to the store and buy his very own picture. 

We walked around Seagull Book and looked at all the various paintings of Christ, and I let him choose which one he'd like to take home. I bought one of the little 5x7 cardboard prints for about $1 and also found a little set of playing card-sized photos of Christ. The larger picture we put in a frame in his bedroom, and the smaller pictures I put in a special gold box and keep with his toys. These little pictures he can hold, stack and look at whenever he likes — and he does, frequently. We talk about what's happening in these photos, like, "Here's Jesus when he was a little teeny baby," and, "Here he's holding a little boy and helping him not to be sad." It helps set the foundation for an understanding of Christ's life and teachings, but at a toddler level. 

Without a doubt, my 18-month-old son knows who Jesus is and knows that Jesus is a very special person. This knowledge has also brought some hilarious moments as well as tender ones. About two months ago, when Evan was tired of sitting in Sacrament meeting and wanted to look at the pictures in the hall, he stood in the aisle, pointed to the door, and yelled, "Jesus! Jesus! Jesus!" And just last week at the park, when Evan caught sight of a long-haired, bearded maintenance worker, he stopped, pointed, and asked if that was Jesus. 

This second event, while definitely hilarious, was also a very sweet moment for me. Evan looked at that man in earnest and excitement, and I swear that if I'd said yes, that's Jesus, he would have run over and given him kisses. When I was done laughing, it almost brought tears to my eyes. It made me think, what if Christ suddenly walked among us? How proud I would be to have my son among the children Christ called to him, not only because of the loving reception he would receive — but because I could be proud to know that we did not forget to teach our son about the most important person he could ever gain knowledge of. It also made me a little sad that my son will not meet Jesus face to face in this life; however, I am doing my best so that when the time comes, he will be prepared for that meeting.

Yes, I am very proud that my son not only knows who Jesus is, he knows that Jesus loves us and wants us to be kind. He knows that Jesus is special, and we go to church to sing songs about him and learn of him. He also knows (but is apparently ignoring the fact) that Jesus wants us to be happy in church and not scream and cry. On top of that, he knows who the prophet is, and he knows that the prophet talks to Jesus. This is a concept that many adults struggle with, and yet our little tyke knows and is impressed by this already.

So while it may seem intimidating to impart this knowledge on little minds, it is easier than you may think. There are many ways to do it, and none of them are wrong. It's just important that we start.

What are some of the ways you teach your children about Jesus Christ and his gospel?

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