What Parents Should Know
Here are some basic things parents should know about the faith formation of children.
It is often said that children do not “learn” faith, they “catch” faith. In fact, this is true of human beings at any age. Human persons come to faith first of all through personal experience. These faith experiences determine how we perceive reality – they first change how we feel, then how we think and finally how we act. Coming to faith (what we call “conversion”) always begins in the heart, and it is always the result of a personal experience or encounter which mediates or reveals the deeper mysteries of God’s presence and love.
2. Words Describe Our Experiences
As faith communities reflect on their experiences, they develop certain statements about their faith which describe their faith experiences. These statements are expressed in Creeds or doctrines. Faith-statements are not the same as facts we can "prove;" they are belief-statements which express what we have chosen to believe because they explain mysteries about life in a way that makes sense to us.
for a summary of basic Catholic faith statements you can share with your children.
3. Faith Grows and Develops...
We are not born with faith. Faith is "planted;" it grows and develops as we do, and it changes as we grow. The faith of a young child is different from the faith of an older child, a young adult, or a mature adult. This growth occurs because our experience of faith and our ability to consciously reflect on, or think about, faith develops gradually as we grow. As a parent you need to understand how faith grows and changes so that you are providing what your child needs at various stages in his or her faith development.
for a description of stages in faith development.
4. The Early Years Are the Most Important...
The first four or five years of life are critically important in a child’s faith development. Long before a child can think about faith, he or she is developing basic perceptions and attitudes about reality which may or may not be consistent with what they will later learn about faith. Many experts agree this experience begins before birth, in a pre-conscious or sub-conscience way, while the child is growing in the womb. No one has more influence over these pre-birth and early life experiences than parents and others responsible for the child’s primary care.
for a guide to children's faith formation.
5. It's Up To You...
Because faith shapes how we feel and how we think, helping our children grow in faith means helping them do four things:
faith. In the early years, nurturing faith will focus primarily on helping children experience and express faith. The ability to learn and act with faith develops more gradually as the child’s ability to think and choose develops. Everything else, including formal religious education, depends on this experience. Religious professionals can teach your child
faith, but they cannot give your child the fundamental
of faith that he or she receives in your home.
for a checklist of how parents can nurture faith.
6. You Can Do It...
You can be and do what your child needs to development a vibrant faith. The first thing you need to do is be a parent -- to do what children need parents to do: to love them, protect them, guide them, to show them how much they are valued as a child of God, and to invite them to share their gifts and talents with others as a sign of God's generosity. If you create a family environment in which these things are present, you will have created a solid foundation for your child's faith. This foundation will be even stronger if children see you participating in a faith community which helps you experience, understand, express and live with faith.
7. The Keys to Success...
According to Leif Kehrwald, an expert in family faith development and the creator of the
website, the four keys to children's faith formation are things every parent can manage:
rituals and traditions,
which help children experience their faith;
which help children learn about their faith;
which helps children express their faith; and
which helps children act with faith.
8. Children Want to Know ‘Why?’...
As children become more consciously aware of the world around them, one of their first – and persistent – questions is “why?” This is an indication that the child is beginning his or her life-long effort to understand the world. This ability develops gradually, but from early on a child will not only want to know
a parent believes, but
the parent believes. In other words, they will want to know
faith makes in a parent's life. This is the biggest challenge for parents – being able to show and explain, in ways a child can understand, how faith makes a real difference in practical, everyday ways.