Seek natural teaching moments. Along with formal lessons and talks, look for everyday opportunities. You can find natural teaching moments when a pet dies, when a child makes a mistake, when someone you know is facing a challenge, or when a child is striving to reach a worthy goal and is feeling discouraged.
Ask questions. Asking questions gives us an opportunity to find out what children know and help them discover answers on their own. Try asking, “What made you think of that?” or “Why is this so important?” or “What do people miss if they don’t have this knowledge?”
Share personal experiences. Think about when the Atonement first became meaningful to you. When have you received a special manifestation of grace? Explain the details of such experiences. Along with saying, “I know Jesus lives and loves us,” express how you came to this knowledge. Children respond well to these stories.
Include multiple aspects of the Atonement. Children need to understand that Christ’s gifts to us are many. For example, explain that Jesus’ Atonement offers us life after death and sin (1 Corinthians 15:22; Isaiah 1:18), but also life amid trials and challenges (Alma 7:11-12). Beyond this, it offers us the opportunity to be transformed (John 10:10). Not only can we return home to God, but we can become more like Him (Matthew 5:48).
Focus on the child. Among the letters in the word Atonement is the word me. The Atonement becomes truly meaningful when it is personalized. Although God has many children, He is a perfect parent who cares for each individually. The Atonement was performed for all mankind, but also for each individual. It is up to each of us to appreciate, accept, apply, and internalize it.
Provide purpose for the suffering. To accomplish the Atonement, Christ selflessly and lovingly offered His life and endured spiritual anguish that was beyond the capacity of any mortal. Dwelling on Christ’s death and suffering can sometimes be overwhelming and disturbing for children. Emphasize the purpose for Christ’s suffering: to make possible the plan of redemption, to preserve our freedom, to offer us the chance to live eternally with loved ones, to give us the opportunity to change and be better, to offer us peace, hope, and relief. We can help children discover all that is possible because of Christ’s suffering and, when the time is right, see purpose in their own difficult challenges as well.
Use simple language. Instead of using the word grace, speak of how Christ can strengthen and help us. Call the Atonement a priceless gift. Redemption can be related to improvement. Resurrection is living after we die. Eternal life is the opportunity to live with God and family. Exaltation is reaching our highest potential, and repentance is changing and being better. As children get older, they can be taught the proper words to go with the concepts they’ve already learned.
Recognize progress. Perfection may be our ultimate goal, but for now we can be content with progress in the right direction. Growth and development take time. Learning takes time. Help children learn grace by assuring them that God is long-suffering, that change is a process, and that repentance is a pattern in our lives. Help them see how they can try again when they make mistakes. Teach that the blessings of Christ’s Atonement are continuous and His strength is perfect in our weakness (see 2 Corinthians 12:9). We can all, as it says in the Doctrine and Covenants, “continue in patience until [we] are perfected” (D&C 67:13).
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