After the birth of my first baby, I spent most of my time thinking about her future baptism. Part of this was just me worrying something might happen to Little Fox before she was baptized. But I also was excited about being able to bring Little Fox into the Church. While I was baptized as an infant, I didn’t receive First Communion or Confirmation until I went through RCIA in grade 12. Little Fox wasn’t going to have to wait that long. (In fact, she was only three weeks old at her Chrismation).
As a Byzantine Catholic, Little Fox is able to receive the Eucharist. (Read more about Infant communion and sacramental initiation in our article here). There are no words for a beautiful it is to be able to hold her as she opens her mouth to receive God. And it absolutely melts my heart when she gets back the pew with us and starts asking for more Jesus.
As a mom, I know my primary duty to my children is to raise them to know and love God. Receiving the sacraments is only one part of raising a child up in the faith. (Although a very important one). Here I have put together a list of all the other ways I work to bring my babies up to love, honour, and serve the Lord!
One: Daily Prayers
Daily prayer is the foundation of spiritual life. As a Byzantine family, we make time for daily prayer in our icon corner. Sometimes we stand for icon corner time. Though, as a new mama and then as a very pregnant mama, we also sit before the icon corner. The main thing is that we take time every day to be still before the icon corner. And this time helps Little Fox grow in her faith.
First of all, making time daily to be before God helps make going to church on Sunday easier. Little Fox has an ability to sit/stand relatively still for up to an hour. The fact that we practice being still every day helps her have the skills to listen and be attentive to God.
Second, we have a fair bit of repetition in our daily prayers. Even though Little Fox isn’t really talking yet, she can sing along to the Trisagion Hymn. Of course, her version sounds like “oooooh aweeee, ooooo tea” for “Holy God, Holy and Mighty.” But it is still adorable, and I know that when she can talk she’ll know the prayer very quickly. Repetition is helpful for more than just learning the prayers. Little Fox tries to copy us making the sign of the cross. She also knows when I’m about to read from the Bible. She starts saying “bubble!” and gets her bible off the icon corner to hold while I read from mine.
Icon corner time is special to Little Fox. Sometimes she even asks for icon corner time earlier in our day. Or to do it again. Daily prayer with Little Fox helps me to see her grow in her faith and devotion and it is so beautiful to watch.
Two: Faith from the Front
Sit at the front at church. Does that sound difficult and intimidating? If you already have older children who you are worried will struggle with this, try issuing the one-row-up challenge. Pick a spot as close to the front as you are comfortable. Then tell your kids that you are giving them a challenge. If they behave well through church, next week you can sit one or two pews closer to the front. If they are rowdy, they will have to sit a row further back. Tell them you are going to see how many weeks it takes to get to the very front!
Sitting at the front of church is exciting – you get to see all the action. Our 20-month-old can sometimes even sit still for the whole hour. And even when she doesn’t just sit, she likes to stand and watch the priest. Or just move around prayer books in the pew, which she does quietly.
I wrote an article a while ago about ways we taught our little one to be quiet and sit well at church. You can check out that article here. It has worked so well for us. And Little Fox is an active baby!
The thing about young children is when something is out of sight, it is out of mind. That’s why toy rotation works so well – toddlers feel like they are getting new toys each time. We also try to keep dangerous items like knives, matches, and plug ins out of sight. But we don’t want Jesus to be out of sight or out of mind.
In our home we have a plush Jesus, many crosses, and icons. All these visuals remind me and Little Fox of God. Little Fox has her own crucifix and icons that she is allowed to “play” with. Usually this entails her trying to attach the cross to various places on the wall. And the icons get set up as icon corners on any flat surface Little Fox happens to be playing by. It is so cute!
Plus, we have taught Little Fox to kiss icons and the cross, and the bible. When she finds a rosary (or a book with an icon on it), she kisses it than brings it to me or the Badger Dad and insists we kiss it too. This Byzantine practice really helps build our baby’s faith and love for God.
Four: Let’s Talk Faith
Toddlers often pick up more than we realize, and love to copy us. We make sure we talk to Little Fox about God, and let her overhear us pray. And, we thank Jesus for our blessings throughout the day. These all help set a good example of faith.
Our family especially likes to thank Jesus for daily blessings. My mother in law always thanks Jesus when the left turning signal light comes on while she is waiting to turn. I try and remember to thank Jesus in front of Little Fox as often as possible. This can be for when the weather is good enough for us to go play outside. Or it can be for a simple thing like there being just enough wipes left to clean a lunch spill. If you are ambitious, you can even thank God for the dirty dishes (or diapers).
I also like to play Christian music for Little Fox throughout the day. That way we are singing along to songs meant to praise and glorify God.
This is also an area where I’m working on watching my behaviours and responses to frustrating situations. I don’t know what it is, but every time I do the dishes (so, everyday) I end up splashing water on myself. And my initial reaction is always to let out an irritated sigh. I don’t like that I do this, and I know Little Fox may see and imitate me. So, I’m working on my tone so I can be a better example.
Five: Stories for the Soul
Everyday before bed we read Goodnight Jesus. It is a book filled with images of icons and family members that the baby says goodnight to. And everybody, from Jesus to the Theotokos, to St. George, to Zacchaeus the Small – they all get a goodnight kiss. Little Fox loves to give Jesus and the saints kisses, but she also loves to kiss the baby goodnight, and to blow a kiss to the baby’s pet fish!
Stories are a wonderful way to feed our children’s souls. Stories help children learn virtues. Reading about God is a fantastic way to build their faith. There are so many good illustrated children’s bible stories and books about the saints.
On a similar note, reading myths and fairy tales can also help feed your child’s soul and understanding of God. As G. K. Chesterton said: “Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed.”
Goodnight Jesus is definitely our family favourite for faith books. Does your family have a favourite faith themed book for babies or toddlers? Be sure to let me know in the comments.
Ways to Encourage Your Baby or Toddler’s Faith
Daily prayer time is the number one way to start building the faith life of your baby or toddler. From this foundation you can encourage a deep love for God. Daily prayer also makes God a priority in your little one’s life. Praying daily with your child teaches the value of prayer.
Going to church and sitting at the front will help your baby see the important parts. I know I get fidgety too when I can only see the back of people’s heads. Help your toddler participate as best they can by singing, making the sign of the cross, or following a picture book of the liturgy.
Keep Jesus in sight for your toddler. A plush Jesus, a crucifix, or an icon of Christ all help with this.
It is also helpful to make sure babies hear about Jesus during the day. Play faith music, let child hear you talk to God, talk about God to the Child, and thank Jesus for blessings in front of your child.
Reading about God helps your child to grow in faith. Making bible stories and other virtuous tales familiar is important. These stories teach your child to value a life of faith. Saints are better than superheroes any day, am I right? (Okay, I also didn’t enjoy superhero stories growing up, but still).
The Byzantine Life
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