In case you don't know this my family is very religious. We go to the LDS church and I serve in the primary (kids 18 months to 12 yrs old) presidency and my husband is the Elder's Quorum president (men over 18). We go to church every Sunday unless we are sick, we have family home evening after church every Sunday, we pray for every meal and at bed time and we also read our scriptures before bed. I am not telling you this to brag or to say look at me but simply to give you a picture of how our family functions in relation to teaching our children about religion.
If you have been reading this blog you know that J, my almost 5 yr old, is my difficult child and has been from birth. In our church the children begin going to nursery at 18 months - which every parent can't wait for because it means you can actually hear a lesson every once in a while in church! Well when J started going to nursery he would scream like he was dying and physically attack the nursery leaders for about 10 minutes straight then he would calm down and play. We had an amazing nursery leader who let me know that if she couldn't handle him she would gladly bring him to me and she never did. It took until he was 2 1/2 yrs old to finally walk into nursery without screaming and the reason for that was because I did the number one thing parents should never do . . . I BRIBED HIM! I told him that if he walked into nursery without crying and without attacking the teachers he would be able to pick out the movie we watched that night but if he cried or hurt the teachers I would let M pick out the movie. He was old enough at the time to start not liking the "girl movies" i.e. the princess movies so this worked wonders!
One day out of the blue he told my husband and I that he hates church and he hates Jesus - he was 3 at the time. I was shocked! What 3 yr old hates Jesus? I had never met one and I was very worried. I know how important the early years are for children and I didn't want him to hate church as a child because I knew it would only get worse the older he became. So my husband and I talked about it and we both agreed that the last thing we wanted to do was to force the church on him and try to force him to love the Savior. We went about this by not overreacting every time he told us he hated church or Jesus, we just said that's o.k. or ignored it a lot of times. He would refuse to pray but we did require him to kneel with our family to show respect. We took him to church every Sunday because as a family we attend church and as long as he lives under our roof he will attend church. Then one day I asked him why he hated Jesus so much. I was humbled by his answer, he told me, "I hate Jesus because I don't want to have to die on the cross like He did." At church the kids learn about how the Savior died for us and he took that to mean that we all had to die like the Savior and that scared him. We talked to him about how Jesus died for us so we don't have to die like he did. I didn't go too much into death and resurrection because he was only 3. From that moment on he started to begin to like Jesus a little more, it wasn't an immediate change but gradually over the next two years he has come to the decision on his own that he loves Jesus and the church and the scriptures. He is now the one to remind me about saying bedtime prayers, and about reading our scriptures and he says some of the most humbling and amazing prayers! In fact tonight we went to Sonic for dinner and I bought the kids a cherry slush and asked them to add real cherries, when we got home and he saw that they gave him 3 cherries he immediately told me that he had to say the prayer for dinner and in his prayer he thanked Heavenly Father not only for the dinner but that we were able to go to Sonic for dinner and he thanked him for his "3 cherries in his slurpee." He will take the time to thank Heavenly Father for everything he did that day, anything that he received from anyone, and for each person in our family without being coached on what to say. The other night he also got scared in the middle of the night and came running into our room crying. When I asked him why he was so scared he told me it was because he couldn't see his Jesus statue. He told me that when he can see Jesus in his room he isn't scared! What faith and what love all from a child who 2 years ago HATED everything to do with that.
So how does this apply to you? From watching him grow over the years I have learned the value of three things. The first is to be an example to your children. I could have told him that the church was good and that he had to love the Savior and never did anything myself to show him that I loved the church and the Savior. Instead I made sure he knew I felt that way by living the Gospel. The second is the importance of exposing things to children over and over and over until they like something. The third is patience and consistency, I guess that is four - but I knew that J wasn't going to change his mind overnight so I had to be patient and trust that I knew I was doing the right thing and that eventually he would figure it out for himself! So let's say your child hates eating vegetables and literally refuses to eat them but you as a parent know that vegetables are healthy and that our bodies need those nutrients what can you do? The first thing is to be an example, make sure your kids see you eating the veggies and enjoying them and second put them on their plate every night for dinner and tell them they have to eat at least 5 peas to get dessert, and eventually over time they will eat their veggies without a fight and may even love them! Oh I also learned one more thing - don't make it a fight! I didn't fight with J about his feelings, instead I told him how I felt about his feelings, i.e. "I am sad to hear that you don't like church" and then told him what was expected of him, i.e. "we go to church every Sunday and even though you don't like it, you still have to go." So whatever trial you are struggling with hang in there, be patient, be an example, be consistent, be loving, and eventually your child will learn to love it.