There are few moments so touching in the New Testament as that memorable day when the Savior of the world bid the children in the crowds to draw near to him. Said Jesus, "Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God." (Luke 18:16)
But if you've ever had a rambunctious toddler running around the house, you know how hard it can be to share any sort of spiritual message. Toddlers have their own language, attention span, and understanding, which sometimes means that parents need to get creative to teach them about Christ.
Below, you'll find six tips for teaching toddlers about Christ without pulling your hair out.
1. Keep it simple.
Christ himself used stories (parables) to teach some of the most complex gospel principles possible. Start by telling simple stories about Jesus. As your children get older and begin to comprehend more, incorporate deeper doctrine around the Savior.
There are lots of ways to teach simple stories. Your children are probably learning Primary songs at church, but singing songs such as "Tell Me The Stories of Jesus," "I am a Child of God," or "Jesus Once was a Little Child" is a great way to teach your toddlers in a way it will stick as they get older.
2. Keep it short.
Most toddlers have a short attention span regardless of the activity. So don't get discouraged when your toddler doesn't want to join you and read the entire New Testament in one sitting. Break down principles and stories into really small portions to make it more manageable.
Reading a few scriptures about Christ and then simplifying them into toddler language is a great way to keep it short. Don't attempt chapters at a time, and remember you don't have to study the scriptures in any specific order. You may also consider watching a clip from videos that correspond. The Living Scriptures animated videos were always a favorite in my house growing up!
3. Testify….but simply.
While it's important later on in life that your kids understand the doctrine of the Atonement, the Creation, Jesus' Ministry, etc., when you're teaching a toddler, focus on simple testimony. Phrases like "Jesus loves me and you" or "Jesus died for us and now He lives again" can be powerful for a toddler who's learning to love the Lord.
Family Home Evening lessons are great places to focus on this tip. You can use resources like The Friend to construct toddler-friendly lessons, and then pull simple doctrines out to testify about. You can also encourage your toddler to begin sharing their thoughts and feelings by asking questions like "What do you know about Jesus?" or "What did this lesson tell you about Jesus?"
4. Use pictures.
I remember when my son was barely one year old. He wouldn't sit through Sunday School to save his life, so we spent most second-hour-blocks on Sunday walking through the halls of the church and pointing out pictures of Jesus. When toddlers can associate a face with the name, they'll remember it more easily. Some of a child's first words can be "Mama," "Dada," and even "Jesus." Using pictures reinforces that Jesus is a real person who loves us and is a friend to us.
As a child, my mother used to put together pictures books by cutting out pictures of Christ from church publications or print them off from online and put them together into plastic scrapbook pages for my siblings and I to look at during Sacrament Meeting. Coloring pages and stickers of Christ are another easy way to incorporate Him into your child's life.
5. Let them know how important Jesus Christ is to you.
Toddlers pick up on a lot more than we realize, which makes our example a vital teaching tool. One way to tell children how important Christ is to you is by asking them what they learned in Primary. One of the best ways for a toddler (or anyone for that matter) to learn is to recite back information they've already learned from someone else. If your toddler is in Nursery or Primary, use Sunday afternoons as a time to ask them what they learned about Jesus or the Gospel in church.
Visiting the temple grounds as often as possible with your toddler and explaining to them who's house it is and why you as their parents go there tells them how much you love Christ and Heavenly Father. Putting pictures of Christ and temples throughout your home, and teaching your children to copy you in kneeling and folding their arms during prayers can also be powerful ways to show your children the role that Christ has in your lives.
6. Focus on Jesus' love.
They'll have time for justice later. For now, help your toddler focus on love and mercy. Teach them that Jesus died for us, suffered for our sins, and was resurrected. Focus on the love that Jesus has for little children.
One memory I have from my childhood is a picture that my parents bought me when I was a toddler and struggling with understanding what prayer was and why I had to fold my arms and close my eyes. The picture was of a little blond girl who looked a lot like me kneeling by her bed. Behind her was the Savior, also kneeling with closed eyes. It was a powerful lesson that I was a beloved child of God, and to this day whenever I look at that picture I am reminded of the simple, powerful love of a Savior who listens to me.