I grew up in church. My major awakening was in 8th grade, when I consciously both accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior and felt as though he had “picked me up and turned me around.” Looking back from that moment, I can see that God was preparing the way for me, and yet that moment seemed / seems somehow definitive.
Point being, one of the things that scared / scares me about having a child is how to raise her in such a way that I both “bring her up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” (PCA baptismal vow), and avoid having her thoroughly messed up and forever disgusted with Christianity. I used to half-jokingly say that I wouldn’t even mention God until she was 14. It seems there are so many very easy ways to bring up a child in a Christian home in such a way as to make them stumble. I remember reading in college Rousseau’s Confessions. Among other things, he claimed that a religious caregiver (aunt?) so carefully admonished and questioned him about sin that he, well, got all muddled and freaked out about it.
I think that behavioral instruction and discipline should be kept as simple and concrete as possible for this age of nearly three years. Tell and model what I expect. Give the simple concrete consequence when / if she disobeys (such as a timeout or losing the toy she wasn’t cooperating with). Express approval and appreciation when she meets expectations.
Lately when she does something annoying and observes that we get annoyed, she’ll ask “Are you happy with me?” We try to be honest and simple — assure her that we love her even when we’re angry, and that yes, sometimes certain behaviors annoy or anger us. When relevant, we’ll also explain that we’re just in a bad mood and irritable, and apologize.
At this point this is all at a very surface level — she is aware of emotions in herself and in others, can express them, identify them, etc. She’s beginning to link behaviors and emotional reactions. I don’t think she’s aware of consciously choosing a behavior in an effort to provoke a particular response. Yes, sometimes she disobeys while looking to see how we will respond, but I think it’s surface-y, not calculated or manipulative in the same way such behavior would be in an older child or adult.
So I don’t think I’m ready to talk to her about sin — or at least about how sin grieves the heart of God. I’m not even sure I’m ready to talk to her about God’s commandments for behavior. Our parental commandments seem to be sufficient focus for now.
I’ve told her that Jesus died for our sins, to pay the price for them, because he loves us so much. Whenever we take Communion, I explain that again, and remind her that this meal is a special way to remember what he did for us. I think that when she is readier to understand, she will ask about that word “sin” or something else about this. And when she asks, I want my primary focus to be on sin as the condition of being separated from God — particular sins mattering partly because good is good and bad is bad, reflecting God’s own nature and our design, and mattering even more because they break the relationship we are meant to have with him. (I just need to work on phrasing that explanation in toddler terms.)
Sometimes we’ve told her about her baptism, but I’m not very good at explaining that one yet, and since the Walkerton church has such a small congregation, we haven’t seen any infant baptisms to remind us to talk to her about it. We tend to talk about it when we look at her photo album, which includes pictures from her baptism day.
She also has a children’s Bible, and we read in it the stories that she chooses. Again — when she is ready, she will ask more about the Garden of Eden story, or about others.
I want to talk to her about Bible stories, sacraments, praying, and all, as things that are true and that can be left to stand as they are for the most part. I don’t want to intrude explanations where no sense of needing an explanation is felt yet, and I especially don’t want to make all Christian things about some kind of moral application. The best application of every part of Scripture, every bit in the worship service, etc, is to believe in Jesus — to put one’s trust and hope in him, confident of his love and gracious salvation.
Again, not that I’m okay with bad behavior — but at this point I don’t feel it necessary or appropriate to connect behavior and faith.