So many people want to raise a family that supports life. Let’s explore ways we can help our children and grandchildren, students and neighbors, grow up with life-affirming values. The following is a practical guide to each age level, from toddlers through middle-school-age children.
Because they love to imitate the grown-ups, encourage them to practice living in a family. Watch as they care for their baby dolls and take on “grown-up responsibilities.” Consider play-acting that you are Great-Great-Grandma and need them to help take care of you. If they don’t have good models for certain life-affirming behaviors, you can show them as you play.
“Why?” is a favorite question of toddlers and preschoolers. If they ask why a baby is in Mommy’s tummy, for example, realize that they are not asking for all details of conception. You can find out what they already know and what they actually expect by first asking them, “What do you think?” Use their answer to give them a bit more information.
Find reading materials that support life issues. There are plenty of picture books that talk about family and unborn babies. Be sure to include these in your reading time to give them an easy, solid foundation for learning about families. In fact, you will find that many storybooks have some values in them. As you read, notice them and repeat them. You can even point to pictures and help the toddler notice the babies, the moms, the grandpas, etc. Play a game of “see all the people God made” or “find all the people God loves.”
Children this age may show more interest in the opposite-sex parent. This is your chance to model positive relationships with them. It will give them clues as to what to expect from a future spouse. They will also be watching the same-sex parent for cues about their own identity.
Although some may have noticed it before, they become more aware of double standards. “That’s not fair” may pop up over any perceived inequities, so use this stage to show how God values life at all ages. For example, you can notice, together, that it’s not fair to say a grown-up person is more valuable than a tiny baby or an older person.
They continue to be curious. “Why?” and “What?” can drive conversations, as well as be annoying. Try to have patience and help them satisfy curiosity, especially in regard to God, life, and faith. Children this age like to categorize and sort, so help them to define and categorize people. Who is a person? What makes someone a living person? Some children may not be quite ready for this abstract thinking, but you can keep it simple and elaborate more as they grow older.
Play is still important to learning and development, so encourage children to be sensitive to others’ needs as they play. Be cautious of media input (video games, internet, TV, etc.) since it is also helping form their values. If something happens during play or entertainment, this is the perfect time to stop and discuss it. Often children consume media as neutral or positive, not realizing that they may go against the family’s (and God’s) values. It’s up to you to point these things out and reinforce what is right.
Children are developing an even deeper sense of identity at this age. Give them examples (through real people, books, and media) of the wonderful variety of people God has made and loves. For example, girls can love playing rough and boys can be sensitive—that does not make them something different. God’s creation includes people of many different personalities and talents.
Family togetherness is important at this age, so do devotions together. Read and watch movies together. It’s a great time to bond and to discuss how it all fits into God’s world. This is a crucial time to establish family values. Whatever you choose to spend time doing will be perceived as a family value. If it’s truly important to be together, be sure to set time aside for that—intentionally. It becomes harder and harder as children get older.
A natural time of challenge, this is when preteens and teens may actually ask, “Did God really say that?” They may seem argumentative, but they genuinely want answers. They’re thinking more abstractly and understanding more deeply, so go as deep as you are able with your answers. They may seem to resist your guidance and authority, so leave books sitting around the house that they can discover and read on their own. Sometimes suggesting they read it can mean they never pick it up, but letting them take the lead can work better. Some children are more open to listening at this age, so take advantage of that opportunity.
Many middle schoolers struggle with feeling compelled to grow up while resisting growth at the same time. You may see them sleeping with an old stuffed animal but experimenting with too-mature or too-risky behavior at the same time. It’s a struggle that frustrates them as well. Remind them of your family values. Invite them to join you in Bible study, devotions, etc., to keep those biblical communication lines open. Talk about your vulnerabilities and your faith.
With an advanced tech culture, your middle schooler could be seeing and doing things you never imagined. Keep tabs on their online activity. Be ready to insist on boundaries. Even better, talk about boundaries before they are needed. If the middle schooler can help set boundaries, it is empowering to them; they take ownership.
Children this age often like to join clubs and groups. Encourage them to join groups that are life-affirming. As they become teens, their desire for social justice can be used to help support suicide prevention and elder abuse, for example. If they like to lead, you could suggest they start a group that makes baby hats, visits nursing homes, or throws baby showers for teen moms. Use this time of extra energy and creativity to serve God and serve others.