October 17, 2022 | NEW METHODS

Little People…Big Questions for Catholic Parenting

Does my toddler need to learn religion? What is most essential to the child?

The young child has a hunger for God… but not in the same way as an adult. Adults must journey with the child, observe what gives the child deep peace, great wonder and joy… join them in experiences of nature, in prayer and simple rituals; and name God for them. When parents share their own joy, peace, consolation with God found in daily life, they give a name to the child’s innate experience.

A toddler’s hunger for God can be satisfied in the wonder of God’s creation, in the warmth of a parent’s touch or understanding glance, even in silent enjoyment of God’s word read slowly in small segments. “The Lord is my Shepherd; I will want for nothing.” How safe children will feel, even when the parent is not present, knowing that Jesus is always with them.

Scripture and science now agree: formation in faith is integral to a fully formed person, and develops from conception, along with all other domains or human growth. After all, it was God who told Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you…” Jeremiah 11.

How do I make my child spiritual?

Parents may still feel unprepared to foster the spiritual realm. Columbia University research professor and author of The Spiritual Child, Dr. Lisa Miller, has found in her studies that “the child is born whole…and arrives with spirituality intact. The developmental work of childhood and then adolescence is to integrate this natural spiritualty… into the changing capacities of cognitive, social, emotional, moral and physical growth.” (The Spiritual Child, p. 132)

A young child thrills at discovering the secret promises of God’s covenant relationship in pictures, songs, liturgical symbols and in the stories Jesus tells: the mustard seed, the “found” sheep, the treasure in a field and yeast hidden in dough. Sophia Cavalletti, creator of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, found that parents and children grow together. She teaches “In the presence of God’s word, there is neither child nor adult.” One must often let the child lead.

Is sharing faith with my toddler really that important?

Evangelization in the family is actually the most beautiful invitation to grow together into the likeness of God, who gives and receives love. According to Our Lord, who calls all children to Himself, growth into full personhood as God intends happens most fully in “a ground of love,” in the family and expanded family of the Church (something now confirmed also by modern science.) Longitudinal studies by Dr. Miller have found that a child who is formed in this love bonded by faith is 80% less likely to succumb to depression, peer pressure or negative self-image in adolescence and young adulthood than children raised without sharing faith with a significant adult. Can parents chance neglecting this graced vocation as first teachers of our faith?

When can my child learn the do’s and don’ts of God’s law?

One more question: What about morality? While every parent must teach some rules for safety, true morality, Sophia Cavalletti has shown, grows naturally as a response to love of God, not from a fear of punishment in following rules prematurely. Morality based on such a covenant with God experienced in the love of the family, implies forgiveness as well as fidelity. These beliefs form the bedrock of a child’s personhood and sustain through life. The moral context of a loving relationship with God shared with faith-filled adults provides the safety that allows deeper questioning and understanding as the child grows.


Amoris Laetitia: Post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation on Love in the Family by Pope Francis, paragraphs 80-88.

The Spiritual Child: The New Science on Parenting for Health and Lifelong Thriving by Lisa Miller, Ph.D. (St. Martin's Press, 2015)

Catechesis of the Good Shepherd Organization on-line Parent resources 

St. Louis Archdiocese: FAITH Alive in the Home Program: resources and mentoring for parents - call Sr. Maureen Martin at 314-792-7612



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