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Helping Children Develop Faith

Helping Children Develop Faith

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You may have read the title of this article and wondered, How can I help my children develop their faith? I’m still developing my faith!

Of course, we could ask a similar question about our anger management. Since we continue to lose control on some occasions, should we just not even try to teach our children to manage their tempers? Of course not.

Life is all about growth and improvement. If we’re still angry or still lacking in an abundance of faith, that’s normal. The important thing is that we are constantly working on ourselves. Our kids should be able to see concrete signs of improvement: fewer angry outbursts, greater patience, more self-control, less wringing of hands, fewer words of fear and worry, greater equanimity in the face of challenge, more verbal expressions of sincere trust in G‑d’s ways.

So yes, imperfect as we are, we have the right and theOur kids should be able to see concrete signs of improvement obligation to help our children develop their emunah (faith in G‑d). It is an act of tremendous kindness on our part to help our children learn to swim confidently in the deep end of life, to have all the internal resources they need in order to deal with every challenge they will face. So let’s look at how we can help kids achieve faith.

Instilling Faith and Trust: Do’s & Don’ts

Let’s begin with the “dont’s”:

  • Try not to share your worries and negative thought processes with your children. Children can easily pick up on their parents’ habits and are likely to become worried themselves.
  • When children express their own anxieties, never reprimand them with comments like, “Don’t think that way.” Anxiety and fears are not bad behaviors; they are emotions that require proper support and healing.
  • Don’t shut children down by saying things like, “It’s all up to G‑d,” or, “Don’t worry--G‑d always protects us,” and so on. Although these are perfectly true statements, they should not be offered until you have helped the child address his or her frightened feelings. Fear causes cortical inhibition (a diminished capacity to process and utilize cognitive information), so providing education while the child is in a frightened state is usually useless. Moreover, trying to doFear causes cortical inhibition so may be perceived as uncaring, which can harm the parent-child relationship.

Now let’s look at a few “do’s”:

  • Do accept your child’s fear with open arms: “You’re afraid? Tell me about it.” This helps the fear begin to move out of the child and into your welcoming arms.
  • If sharing the fear does not release it completely (which is quite often the case), offer other strategies for helping to calm the fear. (See “Fear Busters” below.)
  • Once the fear is settled and the child feels more calm, offer the wisdom of Judaism on the subject of faith in G‑d. For example, “Instead of running scary pictures through your mind, imagine the situation turning out just fine. As the Rebbe said, ‘Think good, and it will be good.’” Or, “No matter how it turns out, we can remember that there is a reason for everything, and everything that G‑d does is for our good, whether we see it right away or not.” Check out one of the many wonderful books or online resources that explain the the concept of Divine Providence--the fact that G‑d supervises and supports each one of us in all the small and large details of our life.
  • Take advantage of emotionally neutral moments to gently slip concepts of faith into your child’s heart and mind. Tell vivid stories of your own experiences of being supported by G‑d. For example, tell your child how you asked G‑d for help in finding a parking space right in front of a building because you were already late for a meeting. Sure enough, just as you were pulling up, a car pulled out right in front of the building, leaving you a perfect parking space. “Thank You, G‑d!”
  • Help your child create a “faith-builder” diary--a personal record, complete with stories, drawings, and photos of events in which the benevolent Hand of G‑d became obvious to your child, especially the occasions that were preceded by worry, dread and fear.

Fear Busters

There are numerous ways to help calm a child’s mind and body. Here is a small selection:

  • A child who worries is an expert at (negative) visualization. After the child has described his scary image of unfolding events, and you have accepted the worry with open arms, ask him to close hisA child who worries is an expert at (negative) visualization eyes and imagine everything working out just fine. Ask him to describe the positive events in his new “movie” to you. Ask him how the positive image makes him feel. Instruct him to repeat the exercise as often as possible and particularly when the scary story enters his mind.
  • Another use of this visualization skill is to imagine G‑d’s divine protection and assistance in various ways. For example, “see” G‑d’s messengers, His protective angels, surrounding the bed when drifting off to sleep.
  • Teach your child to use the breath to help calm the heart, which will then calm the brain, which, in turn, will release calming hormones to every cell of the body. There are numerous ways to breathe for this purpose, but a simple one is to breathe in normally and then breathe out slowly, thinking the number “one” on the out breath. To be effective in times of need, this breathing pattern needs to be practiced for one minute daily, forever. An ideal time for practice is at bedtime when falling asleep or in the morning just after awakening.

There are many other strategies children can learn that will calm their anxious feelings. Always help your child turn off fight-or-flight chemistry before talking about Divine Providence! Most important, keep your own faith-builder diary that can strengthen your own belief that G‑d is there for you. The most powerful way to help children accept the reality of G‑d’s kindness is through your positive modeling. When you sound like you believe it, your kids will too!

Sarah Chana Radcliffe is the author of The Fear Fix, Make Yourself at Home and Raise Your Kids Without Raising Your Voice. Sign up for her Daily Parenting Posts.
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Chuck October 16, 2013

I do not see the point of false hope or false faith. By faith in G-d one means different concepts . Nothing can make sense and
G-d is still G-d and G-d will be G-d if we are not part of His scheme . We try or we don't try if trying is the only alternative we have . What does this mean. Well Christian say to me how can I stand to be a Jew when their are commandments , I don't perform or can't perform . This is generally when I am praying in public .or thereafter . The answer is I am trying . Their answer is that I am being held
accountable for all the other commandments I am breaking. Their idea is their
religion is more practical as it is based on G-ds love for them .
This is what has to be said to a child . That is. I am trying . This is what has to be said to the Christian and to other Jews including the Chabad .
The concept that G-d make it more difficult for Jews who has sinned to practice
a change is destruction to the Jew . A Jew should be able to pick up the pieces
and start again , unless they are right ? Reply

Anonymous NYC August 14, 2013

Thanks to Sarah Radcliffe, Toronto Thanks for your insight. Reply

Sarah Chana Radcliffe Toronto August 11, 2013

Everything Comes from God As Jews, we believe that God intervenes in the tiniest details of our lives, and always "for the good." Many things that happen don't feel good and so we accept, on faith, that there is a hidden good that we cannot yet perceive. From parking spaces to life and death itself, everything is decreed Above. Having faith means that we know that God listens to our prayers and answers them according to His wisdom. We must do the best we can in every area and leave the final outcome of our efforts to God. Reply

Anonymous NYC August 9, 2013

to Tim, UK Hiya....I basically agree with much of what you wrote....however, please clarify one concept for me. Growing up Jewish, conservative not orthodox, I never was taught to fear G-d, but to be grateful and in awe of God. As a young child, I was exposed to Jews for Jesus "friends" who tried to scare my family into becoming Christian.
I will never forget, tho I was 10 at the time, how I was told that I personally would "burn in Hell" while Christians around the world would be "saved" and go directly to heaven. Scare tactics didn't work on me or my family and we soon needed to abandon these "friends" who repeatedly threatened us with "eternal damnation". Then and now, I truly suggest and encourage people to share good things about their various religions to encourage world peace not discord. Reply

Tim UK August 9, 2013

Perfect truth Thank you for your article. It's clear clear you want to help people and have a loving, caring heart for your work.
If you do love HaShem, and the people around you, please think on this; give the advice that is needed, but give it through the scriptures. Although there may be many wise words from the past we can draw on, the scriptures alone are absolutely perfect and come directly from our Creator. He made us; He knows how we work best!
"The fear of YHWH is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One, understanding." Mishle 9. Reply

louise leon PA August 7, 2013

A child's faith My granddaughter is 7 and I continue to be somewhat conflicted about my role in teaching her about G-d. My "daughter", who unofficially adopted us as parents (it's a very long story), is a non-practicing Christian except for Christmas tree and presents. Since neither one of them is Jewish, I don't feel it appropriate to "indoctrinate" although my granddaughter loves to play dreidl. Before Christmas, I get out X-mas books and read them with my granddaughter. My "daughter" doesn't mind this practice, however does not participate. I believe that my "daughter", who still has serious issues with her bio-Mom,rejects religion especially since her bio-mom was a "born again" Christian who didn't act like a "good" Christian. Any ideas for me??? Reply

E. Grunwald New york August 6, 2013

Faith and Survival skills I loved your article especially the Do's and Dont's; which are excellent survival skills that create a better future for parents, their kids and for the continuity of the collective Yiddishe Neshama! Be calm, truthful, assume an easy relaxed manner with your kids. I love your words of truth to model and never betray your values that gives mixed messages and can lead your children to feel confused and lose faith. Thanks Reply

Anonymous August 5, 2013

Bother God for a parking space? I think the article has a lot of very good points. However, the example of asking God to find you a parking space is frivolous at best and blasphemous at worst. This is the sort of thing I hear from evangelicals who ask God for every little thing. How can you possibly explain to a child that God found you a parking space but failed to save a person's life? When you claim you know what God has done you tread on very dangerous ground. We as humans should not presume to speak for God or explain his action or inaction. Having said that, when my niece fell from a third story balcony and survived, you can be sure we did a lot of praying. However, we do not know one way or another whether God in fact had anything to do with the situation. Reply