Has the Church forgotten about the spiritual lives of our youngest?

Babies and toddlers are an often-forgotten age group when it comes to spiritual formation, says Anna Hawken.(Photo: Getty/iStock)

Children are an amazing gift from God (Psalm 127:3), known and loved by Him from before they were even born (Psalm 139). Becoming a parent is life changing. Whilst exciting, it is incredibly daunting, and getting to grips with all the responsibilities of helping a little one to learn and grow needs a huge amount of support and advice from others.

Midwives, health visitors and baby groups offer great support to parents and carers, coaching them to support their child's physical, mental, and emotional development. But what about our little one's spiritual life?

We are not talking about manipulating our children into a set of beliefs but recognising that every human has a spiritual part to them. This looks different for every child. Each of my three have walked a different path and relate to God in different ways. As parents it's amazing to watch this unfurl and develop along with their character, as they grow and change through those early years.

They need our support and guidance to find their own journey of connecting with God. A connection which can support, sustain, encourage, and ground them now and in years to come. God longs to journey alongside them, teach them and give them peace (Isaiah 54:13).

The Church plays a wonderful role in serving parents and carers with little ones and is a welcoming support system for many. However, a baby that has been born in the last two years has been born into a world that isn't 'normal', and parents haven't had the face-to-face contact or support that is very much needed in those early days. What we now have is an opportunity for the church to engage and re-engage with these families in our post lockdown world.

I believe it is the job of the Church to empower new parents in their child's spiritual journey. But have we almost forgotten about our youngest? And is the Church equipped for this role?

A recent study by Liverpool Hope University (Holmes et al. 2022) found that 40% of parents felt that the local church did not provide any resources to support family faith at home. Moreover, the study concluded over a quarter of church leaders didn't know whether their families knew where to find resources. This is especially true of families with babies and toddlers.

Many of the resources that do exist focus on older children who are verbal, or activities aimed at children who can read and write. For years, churches have been excellent at providing groups that offer a safe place for families to come and play and have a cuppa. But few of them equip the parents to spiritually nurture their littles ones at home. It's time to do more for this often-forgotten age group.

The good news is that this doesn't have to be difficult. God placed babies and toddlers in families. The parents or carers who are with them every day can easily and naturally share faith as part of their normal daily activities. All they need are some ideas and inspiration to give them confidence to get going and keep going. Churches and Christian toddler groups are in a great position to encourage and give them those tools and ideas.

Parenting for Faith has developed a whole series of free and low-cost resources to make this even simpler. Individuals or groups can mix and match from the bitesize videos, takeaway sheets, and a slimline book. They've all been developed by real parents who know what it is to be sleep-deprived and feel a bit out of your depth whilst juggling it all.

The ideas are light, easy and don't use any complicated Christian jargon or expect you to find more hours in your day. There is also an option to attend a training morning (10th May) to find out more or join an online baby and toddlers course (starts 9th June) to connect with others. All these resources are available at parentingforfaith.brf.org.uk/babies-and-toddlers

Anna Hawken is the Parenting for Faith Ministry Lead at Christian charity BRF and mum to three under-sevens.