Mistakes or wrong choices? Talking to toddlers about sin
The greatest joy of writing the Babies and Toddlers Leader Guide for our youngest ones is laying out a strong biblical foundation for children to grow toward faith. Though they might not understand completely how the whole Bible points to Jesus’ death and resurrection as a means to rescue fallen people, each week babies and toddlers are learning key Bible stories that show God’s plan for them.
As we are currently writing the stories of the prophets and kings and the exile of God’s people for their sin, I struggle with the tension of explaining to toddlers both sin and God’s loving and holy response to sin.
For one, most toddlers do not have any awareness of personal sin. Toddlers only really begin to understand who they are around 14 to 18 months of age. During this time, it is crucial for us to shape toddlers’ understanding of God as the One who made each toddler uniquely and loves each one. Once toddlers learn “God made me. God loves me,” then we can proceed to “God sent Jesus because He loves me,” a main point that is repeated throughout the babies and toddlers activities. God sent Jesus because people are helpless to meet God’s righteous requirement—total obedience to a loving Father—on their own.
But how do we communicate this point to toddlers? Here are three clear ways.
- Recognize sin as a willful choice. For toddlers, we have chosen in the Gospel Project to define sin as the wrong choice to do what God says not to do or to not do what God says to do. Toddlers must understand that loving God means trusting that His words and His ways are best. Not obeying God is not loving God as we should.
- Refrain from equating sin (wrong choice) with a mistake. A mistake is an error due to an incorrect understanding or faulty information. We would equate this as saying a child “didn’t know any better” about touching a hot stove the first time she did it. Parents and teachers can easily identify mistakes toddlers make that are not deliberate “sins,” even when those mistakes produce harmful consequences. In many of the Bible stories we teach toddlers, the people had an adequate understanding of God’s commands. They knew God’s words, but they rejected them.
- Return to God’s goodness. Talking to toddlers about our inability to keep God’s commands is so important, but the point of our “sin talk” is to point toddlers to the One who never sinned yet died on the cross for our sins. That’s why we emphasize for toddlers that Jesus is God’s Son, and He never makes wrong choices. Jesus always obeys God, and God forgives our wrong choices when we trust in His perfect Son, Jesus.
Pray for the wisdom to communicate sin and its consequences to your toddlers in a way that doesn’t make light of sin and doesn’t diminish God’s great rescue plan. What are some ways your church has chosen to talk about sin with toddlers?
Here are a few more resources to help you talk about sin to kids:
“Closing the Pharisee Training School”
“Going Deep with Kids”
Rachel Myrick is the Babies and Toddlers Content Editor for The Gospel Project for Preschool. She lives in Murfreesboro, Tennessee with her husband, Shaun, and her son, Gideon. She serves preschoolers at New Vision Baptist Church in Murfreesboro.