Little children have a lot to say—until they’re asked a follow-up question about a scripture story that was just shared.
When a talkative toddler becomes unresponsive, Come, Follow Me discussions can feel unproductive and unfruitful—or is that just me?
We learn in scripture that when Jesus interacted with the little Nephite children, their mouths opened, “and they did speak unto their fathers great and marvelous things… and he loosed their tongues that they could utter” (3 Nephi 26:14).
Certainly, the Spirit of God goes where we cannot, “unto the hearts of the children of men” (2 Nephi 33:1). But what else can we do to transition from delivering one-sided sermons to teaching in a way that invites children to speak “great and marvelous things?”
Here are three practical ideas that can guide us in our efforts to help these little chatterboxes engage in meaningful gospel conversations.
Understand Your Toddler
Learning and applying the Good News is hard for all of us. That’s the pursuit of our lives on Earth (Alma 34:32)! And it can be especially challenging for our little ones who are tasked with absorbing tons of new concepts they can’t physically grasp (like the Priesthood, resurrection, the Fall, etc.).
This challenge is bigger than trying to help them to participate in Come, Follow Me discussions in their early years. But creating an environment where we understand them—and they feel understood—will facilitate their learning and applying, as well as their ability to articulate it in family scripture study.
We can take huge steps towards creating such an environment by putting ourselves in their shoes.
Natural observation teaches us that toddlers communicate differently than adults do, and age has a lot to do with this.
Come, Follow Me reminds us that “As children mature, they can contribute more and may be better at sharing their thoughts” (Come, Follow Me—For Primary, 2019, p. 3).
In time, well-developed thoughts will become more of a rule than an exception. Until then, your compassion and understanding will nudge your budding theologian along to express what thoughts they do have in their own time and in their own way.
Short, Frequent Teaching Moments
In my family, the Come, Follow Me discussion goes south for toddlers when I try to put too much information into one lesson. We’ve adapted with time and stand with science on this: toddlers learn and participate better when information is presented in bite-sized bits.
Here’s what we do now:
Short and frequent. Aside from any accompanying activity, we plan for the actual teaching and testifying to be simple, concise, and quick. Then, we try to bring up the topic again before bed, again on Tuesday, and again next month.
This is why it works:
When teaching moments are brief, we give our toddlers the chance to absorb a principle in its entirety (We’re working with microscopic attention spans here!). In their downtime, our toddlers’ noggins go to work processing and cataloging that new information for later use and application. So when we revisit a topic with our toddlers after some time, they have internalized the new information and are primed to participate in the discussion.
Our one-sided sermons are a thing of the past, thanks to short, frequent teaching moments.
Questions that Get Toddlers Talking
Even at young ages, our kiddos know when we’re fishing for a specific answer. When these types of questions are used too often, they can be counterproductive to an open environment that encourages genuine and Spirit-lead discussion.
As we continue to improve our question-asking, a great place to start is with questions that don’t have a single right answer. By nature, the purpose of these kinds of questions is to spark dialog, trigger interest, and gauge understanding.
You may try questions like these:
- Did you know that Nephi’s family hunted for their food with bows and arrows?
- What do you think you would do if you were Samuel the Lamanite?
- Can you think of a song that talks about how much Jesus loves us?
- What’s something we’ve done to be nice to each other recently?
Rather than focusing on a recited fact, phrase, or expectation, these types of questions are an invitation to explore the depth and breadth of the gospel in a family discussion, and toddlers feel liberated to express their own thoughts and ideas.
Go & Do
Our little ones have a lot to say. And with a little help from the Holy Spirit, they are able to learn, internalize, apply, and articulate with an astonishing capacity.
Approach your toddler with a fresh sense of compassion and understanding, teach them in frequent spurts, and ask questions that they can take and run with. Together with help from on High, you’re creating a home ecosystem where candid, organic, and honest gospel discussions grow and toddlers flourish.
You’ll be amazed at the “great and marvelous things” that are spoken when gospel teaching gets your toddler talking.
Kate Matthews is passionate about living out a full and abundant life in Christ, from the comfort of her own home. Kate spreads the gospel message to women as the creator of @milkandhoney.market, a by-mothers-for-mothers community that ministers to the modern homemaker. A happy homemaker herself, Kate is the mother to two on Earth and one in Heaven. Kate is a hobby weightlifter, a sunshine lover, a painter, and a sourdough baker.