Monkey see, monkey do… know your kids are watching you!
Kids learn by doing, watching and imitating. My daughter can help put away her toys… after I do a couple and she imitates me. She can bring a spoon to her mouth because I put a spoon in her hand and showed her how to lift it to her lips, and she watches me eat. She’s learning “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” by imitating me and the cartoons who sing it on TV. She’s saying words her dad and I have said over and over again, and I’ve noticed her watching my lips move when I talk.
If kids learn well by imitating us in daily life, it’s more than logical to say that they will learn to worship by imitating us as well. And in order for our kids to be able to imitate us worshipping, we actually have to go to worship, and participate in the service ourselves, to show them what to do and help them learn why it’s so important. Church can be a really different world than what we’re immersed in every day. It’s important that our kids learn the language of church and of faith, and it’s really helpful for them later on if they have this experience of church culture from early on.
Participate, model and teach. Of course, showing up is step one, we’ve already covered that. But once you’re in the pew, what could this look like? It looks like picking the up the bulletin and following along, speaking out loud. It looks like opening the hymnal or pointing at the screen and singing, even if you don’t like to sing. It’s standing and sitting and folding your hands to pray, and encouraging your kids to do it too. When I stand up, I pick up my daughter so she can see and get that sense that something is happening. A couple times when she’s shown interest in the hymnal while we sing, we point to the words in the book.
One Sunday, a Sunday she and I ended up sitting toward the back, she started babbling while we said the Creed as a church. She “sang” during the hymns. I didn’t really shush her and wasn’t sure how the older people sitting ahead of us were going to react. After church some of those people came up to me. I took a deep breath and prepared for negative comments. One woman looked at me with a big smile on her face and said, “She said the Creed with us this morning!” Others commented to my daughter on how nice her singing was. I was so relieved, and it taught me that even though my kid is little, she is already learning. So I’m learning to take advantage of the things she already likes – reading stories, singing, music – and pointing out to her that all those things are a part of our time at church.
We can make this even easier on ourselves when we learn to imitate Christ. “Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children. Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God.” Ephesians 5:1-2 As we imitate Christ in life and love and worship, our kids will learn to imitate us in those ways, too. And we’re even reminded here of God’s grace when our imitation of Him, and our kids’ imitation of us, is less than perfect. Jesus sacrificed Himself for us to forgive our sins and to lead us back to a full relationship with God. That forgiveness is ours always – even on Sundays when our imitation is less than perfect, and when our little monkeys see but don’t do.
By the way, you will have Sundays where you do your best to model and teach are participate, and those efforts will fall flat. Your kids won’t listen, they’ll be crawling all over the pew, screaming instead of singing. It’s okay. Keep going, keep participating, keep modeling and teaching. Next Sunday might be better. Remember God’s grace and love for you and your little monkeys.