I remember several years ago having a conversation with a preschool parent about how to really discuss the cross with their little one. Understandably, they were concerned about discussing the violence and the gory parts with a three year old.
Dr. Russell Moore had an excellent post called “Is Easter Too Violent for Kids?”. His point, which I agree with, was that we cannot avoid this essential part of the gospel even with little people. So, how do we talk about it? How do we balance age appropriateness and the truth of the gospel?
- Share what they need to know at their age. The basics of the gospel are: We sin. Jesus died for our sin. Jesus rose. Jesus makes a way to go to Heaven. I’m not trying to oversimplify what God has done, and I realize that there is a whole lot of theology that goes into all of that, but those are the bottom-line basics. And those basics are what we have to non-negotiably teach at any age. Details can be shared as kids get older. “Jesus was hurt by some bad guys and they put Him on the cross and He died” is enough detail for a three year old.
- Kids’ understanding is progressive. I have no problem telling a two year old, “Jesus died on a cross”. Most of them won’t really even grasp that and that’s ok. We teach a lot of basics before kids can understand what they really mean, but we are laying a foundation. How many kids can sing the ABC song before they understand each of those are letters and letters form words that allow us to read and comprehend language? As they mature, you can continue to say the same thing but add detail and understanding. With a whole class of preschoolers, I wouldn’t talk about the nails through His hands or the crown of thorns that made Him bleed because I can’t gauge every child’s maturity. But with my own child we can add a little bit more detail of the story at a time, as I can better know what she can understand or what will not traumatize her. I’m cautious with my own child about what videos or images she sees at Easter time, but this is progressive as well. She can handle more than she could last year, and the key is how thoroughly we prepare her for what she is going to see and how we “debrief” or talk her through what she saw.
- Don’t be afraid of the tough conversations. Sometimes as parents and teachers we are so nervous about the questions that a kid will ask or that we are going to scar a child for life. Kids are pretty tough to scar, especially by telling them the truth about Jesus. Many times I’ve had conversations with parents who didn’t want to take their child to a worship service with them because they are afraid their child might hear topics addressed or mentioned that the child isn’t ready for. My general stance is that your child is going to hear about those things anyway eventually, whether through tv, media, or other kids. Starting those conversations in the church helps you solidify the perspective your child has. Kids are exposed to ugly and violence and hatred in every other form of media in their world. They can handle more than we think.
- Answer questions. Lots of them. Little people don’t process big things all at once. Expect and encourage lots and lots of questions. Answer them the best you can, keeping in mind the child’s level of understanding. Questions mean they are thinking about Jesus which is a good thing!
- Always point back to the hope and victory of Jesus. The great news is that the pain and the blood and the terribleness of the cross isn’t the end of the story. In a preschool classroom there is no point in dwelling on the details of the cross anyway. The biggest truth these little people need to understand is: yes, Jesus died on that cross but He rose again! He beat death! He made a way for us to go to Heaven. I never end a story with little kids with “Jesus died on the cross.” They need the rest of the story!