When our first child began to talk, I was amazed at how much information he already had stored in his bald, fuzzy head. This hit home for me one day during a diaper-change. As I opened the tabs, releasing the foul odour of a rather ripe baby poo, I heard his little voice pipe up, "Holy smoke!"

Startled, I realized how often I must have used that exclamation while standing at the change table.

Since then, I’ve learned that that expression is another way to say "holy hell." Inadvertently, I had taught our baby to use language that many would deem to be swearing! Looking back, I wish it had occurred to me to let our baby "eavesdrop" on my constant conversations with God. Had I done so, maybe he would have said, "Thank you, Jesus, for this stinky bum," instead.

Developing your child's "spiritual fluency"

Allowing your baby (age 0-2 years) to hear you carrying on a daily dialogue with your heavenly Father is a wonderful way to teach your child about your love for God and His Word. The following are some practical ideas to get you started in helping your child develop "spiritual fluency" at an early age.

  • Sing songs of God's blessing, care, love and protection at naptime and bedtime.
  • Express love and appreciation readily. For example, give thanks for your spouse by saying, "I just love the daddy/mommy God gave you."
  • Use specific words to describe godly character qualities. For example, instead of saying, "You are such a nice girl," when you see your daughter share a toy, say, "What a generous girl you are to share like that." Or when your son waits quietly in his highchair for a snack, comment on his patience instead of saying something more general, like, "Aren't you a good boy?"
  • While driving, sing songs that express joy, gratitude and worship.
  • Marvel over and praise God for the beauty around you in nature. You could begin the day by saying, "Good morning, God. Thank you for the pretty colours You put in the sunrise today."
  • Pray out loud about small issues like lost mittens, stray socks, runny noses and sore tummies.
  • Thank God aloud for food (when eating or preparing meals), clothing (while you are dressing your baby), sunshine, rain or snow (when you go outside), water (at bath time), toys, friends and family – and even for dirty dishes and smelly diapers!

Check your bad habits

These are all small yet significant ways you can engage your baby in "God talk" as you go about your day-to-day routine. You can challenge yourself further by reading through this checklist to see what kinds of character traits your child may be picking up on unbeknownst to you.

  • Do I grumble about work, or do I complete even menial tasks joyfully?
  • If the weather is bad, do I complain?
  • Do I speak in a respectful and loving manner when I talk to my spouse?
  • Am I gentle and caring toward our pet and/or other living creatures?
  • Am I responsive when my child needs my attention?
  • How do I respond in traffic jams and when other drivers annoy me?
  • When I’m angry or upset, does my child see me slamming things around?
  • Am I constantly fretting over my appearance?
  • Are there times when I order my child around in a way I would never allow them to speak someone else? (E.g. "Get over here right now!")
  • Do I give my child the impression that what others think is more important than what God thinks?
  • Is there a tone in my voice that I wouldn't want my child to imitate?
  • Do my shopping and spending habits give my child the impression that we use our resources wisely?
  • What do I say about others (relatives, caregivers, friends, etc.) when they aren't listening?

Finally, as you remember the story of my son's change-table words, be reminded that your words and actions – whether good or bad – are being imprinted upon your baby’s brain. Make it your goal to be able to say as Paul did, "Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ" (1 Corinthians 11:1). The spiritual foundation you put in place during your baby’s first few years is crucial preparation for your child's faith development in the years to come.

Laurel Kirchner is the original creator of Focus on the Family Canada’s Kids of Integrity, a series of free, downloadable character-building lessons for parents of children aged three to 10.

© 2011 Focus on the Family (Canada) Association. All rights reserved.

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