As a dad of four children ages 1 to 5, sometimes I’m tempted to think these early years are unimportant. But I know that’s not true; the way we treat a child from age one to five will have a huge influence on how the rest of his childhood and his life will turn out. These early years of life are likely the most critical and formative ones.
Here are five priorities my wife and I are focusing on during our children’s’ preschool years:
1. Teach them to obey
The clearest instructions to children in the Bible involve obeying and honoring their parents. Some call this repressive parenting, but teaching our children to obey will bring them many blessings. Besides promoting their safety (by preventing actions like touching a hot burner or running in the street), learning to obey at an early age gives our children the ability to make their own choices as they mature. As Andrew Murray says, “Train a child to master his will in giving it up to his parents’ command, and he acquires the mastery to use it when he is free.”
We can make it easier for our children to obey us by earning their trust, making sure they know we have their best interests at heart.
“Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.” (Eph. 6:1)
2. Teach them to be peacemakers
Our young ones must learn to temper their own desires and consider the needs of others. This is not an easy one! Every day in a house with littles provides opportunities to teach peacemaking.
We can teach them biblical methods for responding to offenses, such as “talk to the person who wronged you first, before you come to me” and “if he hits you, it still isn’t right for you to hit him back.” I have to keep reminding myself that they don’t just know these things; we need to model the right responses and walk them through what they should do, and they may need to hear it fifty times before it sticks. Often we will stop and re-play the situation that just happened, coaching them through the right words and actions. Eventually, they will be able to work through most problems without needing our help.
We can also set a good example by apologizing to our children when we make mistakes or wrong them in some way. Our failures can actually become prime teaching opportunities.
“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone.” (Matt. 18:15a)
3. Teach them to concentrate on a task
Before they can become diligent students and helpful members of our household (or responsible adults, for that matter), our children need to develop enough self-control to concentrate on an activity or job and see it through to completion.
Our young children are often interested in “helping” with whatever we are doing, whether it’s washing dishes, changing the car oil, shopping for groceries, or typing on the computer. It isn’t always convenient, but we try to include them when we can. I hope that the helpful spirit will grow if we encourage it.
We’ve also started assigning each child simple chores after breakfast, like making their beds, helping clear the table, or sweeping the floor. This requires some coaching from us, but they are getting better already. This ability to focus on a task and get it done will be essential as they get older and we begin homeschooling.
“The hand of the diligent will rule” (Prov. 12:24a)
4. Impart a love of learning through stories
“Tell me a story, Daddy!” is something I hear a lot these days. A little tot scoots across the floor, eagerly pushing a board book in my direction. I don’t want to dampen their enthusiasm, so I’ve had to brush up on my storytelling skills and repertoire. (Our bookshelves are overflowing with storybooks too!)
Learning should be fun, and stories make it so. As a long-time reader of almost exclusively non-fiction and how-to books, I have to thank my wife Katelyn, and N.D. Wilson for opening my eyes to the power of stories. As it turns out, we enjoy and remember stories much better than the facts we learn from a textbook.
If reading and discussing stories can make learning not a chore, but a fun, natural part of our family life, then homeschooling will be that much easier when the time comes.
In addition, God has revealed Himself and much of His Word through the stories given to us in the Bible. The preschool years are the prime time to surround our children with the best stories ever written – stories that will form the foundation of their faith and their relationship with Jesus as they grow.
“We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the wonders that he has done.” (Ps. 78:4)
5. Build a close relationship with each child
My parents used to hear it all the time: “Just wait until they’re teenagers.” But the predictions of doom never materialized. They were purposeful about building relationships with each of us six children, and they say it just got better as we grew older. I’m sure it still wasn’t easy, but we all had strong relationships with our parents through the teenage years, and we still do today.
I also want close relationships with each of my children, and now is the time to start building them. This means learning what communicates love to my children and making time for it. They like early morning snuggles, making forts, and watching movies together. They love to ride on my back or talk with me when they’re going to bed. Sometimes we go out for a quick dessert date or shopping trip. The girls love doing craft projects and showing us their dress-up outfits. The boys love playing with toys on the floor or helping push the lawnmower around the yard. Building relationships with little people is pretty simple – which is why it’s important right now!
I think of my Grandpa, whose simple love for Jesus and for his family has had a tremendous impact on our family and on me. His love helped us believe in God’s love. If I only succeed at one thing as a parent, I want my children to know they are loved, both by me, and by their heavenly Father.
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” (Jn. 15:12)
God has given us these little followers, so young, trusting, and impressionable. He’s entrusted us with a great responsibility. May God give us wisdom and strength to love and train them for His glory!