Ask Dr. Dobson

   QUESTION: I have heard you say that the most important responsibility for Christian parents is to teach their children about Jesus Christ. We are new Christians and new parents. How do we go about introducing our little girl to what we believe?

   Answer: The best approach is found in the instruction given to the children of Israel by Moses more than 3,000 years ago. He wrote, "Impress (these commandments) on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates" (Deuteronomy 6:7-9).

This commandment provides the key to effective spiritual training at home. It isn’t enough to pray with your children each night, although family devotions are important. We must live the principles of faith throughout the day. References to the Lord and our beliefs should permeate our conversation and our interactions with our kids. Our love for Jesus should be understood to be the first priority in our lives. We must miss no opportunities to teach the components of our theology and the passion that is behind it.

I believe this teaching task is the most important assignment God has given us as parents. The reason this is such a critical responsibility is that the world will be giving your children very different messages in the days ahead. It will take them to hell if not counter-balanced by a firm spiritual foundation at home. This is one task about which we can’t afford to be lackadaisical.

What is the most important period in the spiritual training of children?

Each is important, but I believe the fifth year is often the most critical.

Up to that time, a child believes in God because his or her parents say it is the right thing to do. She accepts the reality of Christ as she would a story about Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny—uncritically and innocently. At about 5 or 6 years of age, however, she begins to think more about what she is told. Some kids come to a fork in the road about that time. Either they begin to internalize what they’ve been taught and make it their own or else the Bible stories become like fables.

I certainly don’t mean to imply that parents should wait until the child is 5 or 6 to begin spiritual training. Nor are subsequent years insignificant. But I am convinced that our most diligent efforts within the family and our best teachers in Sunday school ought to be assigned to the child of 5 or 6 years. There will be crucial crossroads after that, but this one is vital.

Send your questions to Dr. Dobson, c/o Focus on the Family, PO Box 444, Colorado Springs, CO 80903. These questions and answers are excerpted from books authored by Dr. James Dobson and published by Tyndale House Publishers. Dr. Dobson is the President of Focus on the Family, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation of the home. Copyright 1997 James Dobson, Inc. All rights reserved. International copyright secured