Trying to do anything intentional with a two-year-old can feel a bit like walking with them on roller skates, pulling them along while they try to balance and don’t yet know how to even pick up their foot and glide! I recently had a friend share with me that one of her goals for the new year is more intentionally discipling her two-year-old. She asked for some wisdom on how to do this best.
I likely would have answered very differently in 2014, when I had my first two-year-old and soon to be newborn baby. I could have probably drawn up plans and schedules and given a list of activities and intentions.
But thankfully, God sanctifies us through the years (not that there is anything wrong with the things I just mentioned – but my focus on them as a Savior was indeed incorrect). That’s one of the best parts of having subsequent children, I think. We are becoming more like Christ, and our parenting should and does change, for the better.
It’s no surprise then that my parenting of our third, also our first daughter, does differ greatly from how we did things with our first. On the surface it seems a lot less structured or planned, but I can promise you that there’s plenty of organic intentionality and much more joy and peace involved this time around. I hope to share a few principles to encourage you as you walk in a similar season, trusting that God is at work in ways we cannot see. The seeds we plant may not bear fruit for quite some time, and it’s good to remember this so that we don’t become disheartened and deterred in our process of planting seeds. The fruit is not our job. So let’s trust God who gives the growth as we abundantly plant our seeds.
If you’re like me, you like a to-do list. I often think, “Just give me the formula and I will follow it.” But I steadily have to remember…our children are not math problems. They are individual, unique persons created in the image of God.
So rather than give you a checklist for how to disciple your children, let me focus on principles that have proven to be fertile soil for seed-planting in our home.
Family devotionals. I won’t spend a long time here because I don’t want to write a prescription for you. But the main elements are reading God’s word together, singing together and praying together. Do this…even when they don’t seem to pay attention. There are countless resources for this, but it doesn’t have to be fancy. Simply consider each season, choose a time to make it a priority, and spend time remembering God’s truths together.
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” (Deuteronomy 6:4-9, ESV).
Deeper conversations about God will come as your child matures, but lay those foundations now. Notice a sunset and point it out to your child. Ask who made the sunset. Simple conversations like these begin shaping a worldview foundation for your child to understand that the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, and we are the sheep, the people of his pasture! (Psalm 100). Catechism can also begin at a young age as well, but don’t stop there. Pursue organic conversations through whatever your day entails or brings. These talks don’t have to be scheduled, and they sometimes last less than ten seconds, but truly help us as well as our children in understanding who God is more and more.
Reading aloud. This has become the best gift in our home – reading aloud to your children can truly become the sweetest relationship building time together. There are often times even now with my nearly ten year old where I don’t know what to do or where to start with restoring fellowship or correcting a sin or disciplining my own attitude, and the simple act of sitting down together to read a book aloud is where we begin. So much can happen in these moments. We are communicating we are setting aside other agendas to enjoy the art of story with our child. We are laughing together, crying together, and walking in fellowship with one another in a very simple, tangible way. Don’t take for granted the power this has. It’s one of my daily goals for my children, and I highly recommend it become one for you, too. It’s a five minute practice that is so very powerful. Don’t know how long to read to your little one? No problem! Don’t try to force them to sit still for a certain amount of time. Trust their guidance at this age – they’ll let you know how long they can sit, ha, and even which pages to read, or how long to stay on a page. This is all good and natural, so don’t try to create a disciplined listener at this point – just let your toddler guide you on their attention span, and read whatever, whenever! You’ll slowly begin to see their attention span lengthen, as well as their interest grow; just be diligent to lay the foundation by being willing to sit and read.
Lastly, play. Just play. Enjoy discovering the amazement of wonder at small things with your little one – bubbles, clay, sand, and other tactile discoveries. You don’t need a lot of supplies or toys for this. Simply walk outside without an agenda and let your little one guide where you go, how long you walk, when you stop and sit and dig. Let your child play too long in the bathtub. These moments are for kingdom-building. These moments matter. They are fertile ground for building a foundation of love upon which you can later add theology and language and understanding God is a deeper intellectual way. But just as a baby learns to trust his parents who feed him as a baby, so he continues learning trust from countless moments of playing and enjoying and wondering together, and so he will continue learning trust through deeper conversations and more difficult circumstances later in life. These building blocks matter and are not wasted.
Open the Bible together. Sing. Pray. Read aloud. Play.
These simple principles really do matter.
I’ll leave you with a few reminders as you go out to sow seeds. I recently read this quote from The Convivial Homeschool by Mystie Winckler (definitely recommend this book!): “Fruit comes after a season of labor, not as soon as the seed goes in the ground.”
Similarly, “so neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth” (1 Corinthians 3:7).
Let’s not sow sparingly. Let’s sow generously, in abundance, and not only trust that God will give fruit, but that he will do as he pleases with such fruit.
Here are some of my favorite resources for the principles I mentioned above:
The Bible. I firmly believe that no child is too young to listen to pure scripture being read. This can be a habit in our homes that the smallest member can sit under, even if they don’t understand it yet. Alongside scripture, storybook Bibles are great tools to use with two year olds. We try to make the distinction with our children that these are not the actual Bible, but just a retelling of some of the stories from the Bible. Now that our boys are older, they understand their personal Bible devotion time to be in scripture itself, and not just the storybooks. However, nothing is wrong with reading the storybooks! Sally Lloyd Jones’ The Jesus Storybook Bible is great, and we also love The Beginner’s Bible.
New City Catechism – I really believe that even two year olds can begin learning to recite what we believe as Christians. This is a resource we love, and you can find the app to download that also has catchy songs for each question and answer.
Read Aloud Revival – almost any booklist you could ever want can be found here. This is where we started a few years ago – Around the year in picture books list. I cannot recommend these resources enough!