A Child’s View of God
As parents, we presume our children know something about God. But, how they think about God actually develops very gradually over time.
In the early years, children most often imagine God as parent, someone like their grandfather or father. They imagine God with human form and characteristics, and specific behaviors. A young child was asked what God looked like, and she answered with certainty, "God looks just like my grandpa." The questioner then asked what the child thought God did all day. Again, with wonderful confidence, she explained, "He reads the paper and then he combs his hair and gets ready to go to church."
Usually, the next stage in a child's perception of God is based on the child's expanding world. At this point, children are beginning to recognize that people have particular roles in the daily life of their community. They are learning about firemen, police officers, teachers, doctors, and nurses. And so, as they consider how God fits into their world, they begin to think of God as creator. The magnificence and variety of creation inspires wonder in a child in the same way it does in an adult. We are awed by the power and beauty of the natural world, and this awe is the beginning of the child's search to know God.
As children participate in prayer, one of their first concepts of God beyond creator is that of the God who answers all prayers, wishes, and hopes. In the early grades, these prayers are generally unselfish petitions for an ailing family member or for the safety of a loved one. However, as children enter the middle grades, their focus soon becomes more self-centered, such as "Dear God, help me to pass the test even though I didn't read the lesson." Whether in selfish or unselfish intercessions, children need help to recognize that God always hears their prayer, even if an answer seems absent. As parents, we can point out that even adults can't always see God's response to their prayers, that sometimes we have to wait and watch to see how God has heard and answered us.
Even very young children see many dangers in the world around them. As they develop, all children worry about being separated from their parents. Additionally, they may be fearful of the violence and tragedies seen on television. In the midst of these threats, they may hope, "If I am always good, no harm will come to me." So then, how can a parent reassure a child of God's constant love and yet prepare the child for those inevitable disappointments, heartaches, and perhaps even disasters.
Most of all, it is essential for children to know deep in their hearts that God loves them no matter what. They need to be assured that it is unnecessary and even impossible to earn God's love. It is simply a free gift. When bad things happen to people, it is not because God does not love them. Rather, when bad things happen, God is with us and continues to love us. Children need to know that when life is difficult, God is with them, and we -- their parents -- are with them also. Children need to be reminded of this truth clearly and often. It is one of the ways they will come to know God.
**For a fun family activity, invite each person draw a picture of God and then explain the pictures to one another.
About the author: Jacquie Jambor had an extensive background in catechetical ministry as a teacher, catechist, adult educator and Director of Religious Education. After more than twenty-five years in parish ministry, she joined the team at RCL-Enterprises. For eight years, Jacquie served as Catechetical Advisor and National Consultant. Jacquie was a religion series author and published articles in the areas of religious education, family systems, and sacraments. As a national speaker and catechetical leader, Jacquie presented workshops, retreats, and key-note presentations for diocesan conferences and leadership programs across the country.