I took my 9-year-old daughter out to lunch the other day. As I sat across the table from her, it struck me yet again just how quickly she's growing up. It seems like just yesterday she was a chubby, little toddler, and now she's this beautiful, athletic, witty young lady who is just beginning to show glimpses of the amazing woman God has planned for her to be.
She has always been my deep thinker. Even when she was a preschooler, she would ask us some tough questions about God. As she has gotten older, I've been privileged to watch her faith become an important part of her life. She hasn't stopped asking the tough questions, either. As she grows physically, she also matures spiritually, which is exactly what God had in mind. We want our kids to follow in Jesus' footsteps by "growing in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man." (Luke 2:52)
Sometimes, though, it's easy for us to miss the opportunities to help our children grow spiritually. We would never let our children wander around in clothes that are two sizes too small, but we sometimes try to keep them in spiritual clothes that are two sizes too small. It's important that we understand what our kids are capable of learning at certain times in their lives. If we don't give them the spiritual meat that they need, then we are not fulfilling one of our most important roles in their lives.
We don't want our children to be like the Corinthians, to whom Paul said "I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready." (1 Corinthians 3:2) Despite being Christ-followers, the Corinthians had not matured spiritually. Paul could not teach them important things because they had not moved on from being "baby Christ-followers." Don't keep your children at the "baby" stage. Help them grow spiritually as they mature physically.
One of my favorite resources for knowing what a child of a certain age is capable of understanding is Focus on the Family's "Parents' Guide to the Spiritual Growth of Children." This is a great book that offers an overview of what kids need to know about God at different ages. I highly recommend getting your hands on a copy of the book. For quick reference, here's a simplified overview from the book of ages and the things that they can understand. Remember that every child is different. This is just a guideline. Let your own child be your guide.
- Ages 0-4: God exists, God loves you, Jesus loves you, God wants to take care of you
- Ages 5-6: God is your loving Father, God tells us His story in the Bible, God sent His son Jesus to die for you, God has prepared a place in heaven for you
- Ages 7-9: God is real, there is only one God, the Trinity, God is eternal, Jesus is both God and man, God's character, the Bible is true, God wants you to learn the Bible
- Ages 10-12: Not everyone believes the truth about God but you can respond to their objections, God wants you to explore the Bible, God lets people serve and worship Him in different ways, you can pray on your own, you can learn to worship God on your own and in a group
This is just a snapshot of some of the things your child is capable of understanding at different ages. I've presented it to you mainly as a reminder that we need to change the way we present God to our kids as they grow. Each stage of childhood builds on the one before, but it's never too late to begin sharing God with your kids. Some kids will quickly grasp some truths and be ready to move on to the next while they may need to spend more time on other concepts. Most adults I know don't fully understand the concept of the Trinity, so don't expect your 9-year-old to figure it out right away.
Simply knowing how your child matures spiritually gives you the tools to be a better teacher and mentor for him. It lets you be intentional in how you teach and share with your child.