My kids and I were sitting at Wendy’s when all of a sudden my oldest sat straight up and said, “We need to pray!”
I gave her the strangest look until I heard the distant sirens getting closer.
For as long as I can remember, whenever we’ve been driving and I heard sirens or saw an emergency vehicle on the road, I would say, “Kids, hold up, we need to pray!”
On this day, my daughter heard the “call to prayer” before me and instinctively announced that it was time to pray.
This reminded me, once again, that not only are our kids watching us, but they are also copying us.
Like a serious game of “Simon Says,” our children are learning what is normal in life from our actions.
It’s a good reminder that whatever we do, we are teaching and discipling, even if we don’t think we are.
If we can find just a few spots to be intentional about creating healthy, faith-formational habits for our kids to emulate, it can go a long way in establishing some instincts that will, for a lifetime, turn their hearts toward Christ.
I talked with several parents and ministers whose kids I see have some great healthy habits and asked them for some practical thoughts I could pass on to others.
Here are three quick ideas that can become habits in and beyond your home:
1. Pray before meals.
Many people do this anyway, although over the past few years I’ve heard more criticism of this practice.
Some have told me that it is too “religious” and lacks sincerity so they prefer not to “force their kids” to pray at dinner.
However, if you do not treat the prayer as something rote and religious, but you take the time to genuinely stop for a moment and thank God not just for the food you have, but also the life and family you’ve been given, your kids will pick up that heart behind the prayer from you.
It’s less about the words and even the action, than the meaning and motivation behind it.
Taking a moment to stop, breathe, thank God for his blessings can be done anywhere, but why not before a meal when you are gathered with family and blessed with provision? And what a great heart habit to pass to your kids right from the start.
2. Celebrate often.
One parent told me, “Whenever someone does something well, shows kindness or has a personal victory, we all stop and cheer for that person.”
The habit of affirmation and recognition we are forming means they won’t have to go looking for it somewhere else.
Celebrations bring us back. They connect us to moments that we don’t tend to forget. They provide us a place to point to and say, “That is where I belong.”
Something as simple as congratulating your child for a job well done can create a culture of joy and a habit of encouragement that they will return to throughout life.
How awesome would it be if you saw your grown child stop and cheer someone on when they see them doing something well? Encouragement as a habit? Sounds good to me.
3. Go to church.
This is no longer a given. Today, a regular attendee at church is defined by someone who attends church once or twice a month.
The number one reason that church attendance is declining in America is because the frequency of attendees is dropping.
In Hebrews, the author is clear about one habit we shouldn’t pass on to our kids: “not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but instead encouraging one another all the more” (Hebrews 10:25).
If for some reason you are unable to attend church at the provided times, find some other way to “meet together” with other believers to worship, pray and fellowship so that your children see that it is a habit of yours to spend time growing your faith in community.
The Christian walk was never designed to be done alone and modeling that for your kids can give them a solid foundation for their future needs.
John Roberto, editor of Lifelong Faith Journal, shares, “By normal processes of socialization, and unless other significant forces intervene, more than what parents might say they want as religious outcomes of their children, most parents likely will end up getting religiously of their children what they themselves are.”
In other words, what we as parents do as believers will speak leaps and bounds more to our kids than what we say.
Parents are the greatest influence, the habit formers. Use your power for good.
Children are great imitators. Give them something great to imitate.
Christina Embree is director of children and family ministries at Nicholasville United Methodist Church near Lexington, Kentucky. A version of this article first appeared on her website, Refocus Ministry, and is used with permission. You can follow her on Twitter @EmbreeChristina.
A church planter with Plowshares Brethren in Christ in Lexington, Kentucky, she is a graduate of Wesley Seminary with a Master of Arts degree in ministry focusing on family, youth and children’s ministry.