Like most parents, you want to share important spiritual principles with your children. But it’s challenging to find enough time to prepare and teach formal lessons about everything you’d like to impart to them about God.

The good news is that you can relax. Your kids will learn a lot about God simply in the middle of everyday experiences you share together – if you learn how to harness the power of these teachable moments.

Here’s how you can use everyday experiences to teach your kids about God:

Recognize the ingredients of a teachable moment. Understand that a teachable moment – a time when you’re with one of your children and something occurs that offers an opportunity for you to teach something about God – requires three ingredients: a loving bond between parent and child, a catalyst (the reason why the teachable moment is occurring at that time and place), and a specific biblical truth illustrated by the catalyst.

Be available. Realize that your children need and want lots of time with both you and your spouse, and that to build healthy relationships with them, you need to make them a top priority in your schedule. Don’t fall for the myth that a little bit of "quality time" will make up for not spending quantity time with them. Understand that teachable moments often happen unexpectedly, in the midst of ordinary times you spend with your kids. If work or other things are stealing the time you should give your children, change your priorities. Commit to being with your kids as much as possible while they develop their faith in the midst of daily life.

Model a passionate relationship with God. Show your children that you have a passion for God. If you do, you’ll be credible when you teach them spiritual truths, and your kids will catch your passion themselves.

Ask your kids questions. Recognize that when you ask your children questions, you can find out about them and what they need to know. So rather than giving them lectures (which never works, anyway), use questions to build your relationship with them, start conversations, and focus on what your kids want to know at any given moment. Ask them questions about school, the media, their friends, family, hobbies, and church (especially what they’re learning in Sunday School or youth group).

Build a close relationship with each of your kids. Do all you can to establish and maintain a positive, strong relationship with your children. Use common interests to create opportunities for teachable moments. Relax, play, and have fun together. Develop biblically based (not legalistic) house rules and clearly explain the reasons behind them to your kids.

Give your children unconditional acceptance and love. Encourage your kids to freely express their opinions; doing so will help them respect your opinions. Let go of anger that sabotages relationships. Never attack your children verbally or physically. Pray for the strength to respond through the Holy Spirit’s power. Understand that if you keep your temper under control, your children will be able to trust you to act consistently and fairly. As a result, they will better respect the spiritual principles you’re trying to teach them.

Be proactive about finding catalysts for teachable moments. Take advantage of unexpected catalysts that come your way daily, but don’t hesitate to come up with catalysts of your own by choosing special experiences for you and your kids to enjoy together. For example, create holiday traditions that will help you and your kids discuss important spiritual truths.

Tailor your lessons to your kids’ ages. Understand what a child can truly understand about God during various stages of growing up (birth to age 4, ages 5 to 6, ages 7 to 9, ages 10 to 12, ages 13 to 15, and ages 16 to 18). Then keep that information in mind when using teachable moments. Give your kids’ opportunities to explain spiritual truths you’ve just tried to teach them to make sure they received your message.

Match the right truth to the right moment. Ask yourself: "Does this truth match our current mood?", "Is it appropriate for my child’s age level and interests?", "Can we cover this topic in a few sentences, or do I need a Bible handy for further study?, "Will my child be mature enough for this truth, or will he or she choke on it", and "Is there a better truth to go with this moment?" Use your relationship radar to discern whether or not the moment is right. If you’re not sure, err on the side of silence to avoid forcing a lesson on them when they won’t appreciate it.

Soak in God’s Word. Understand that if you spend time regularly reading and studying the Bible, you will soak in its truths. Then, when you want to teach your kids about God, biblical truths will flow much more easily out of you than if you hadn’t been immersing yourself in Scripture.

Be willing to be vulnerable. Understand that your kids need to hear about your failures as well as your successes, your doubts as well as your triumphs of faith, your times of loneliness as well as your joy, etc. Don’t set up a false image to which your children can’t relate or measure up. Openly and honestly share your thoughts and feelings with them to give them confidence that you can relate to them and their situations. Whenever you hurt them through your mistakes, own up to your sins and ask them to forgive you. Let them hear you pray for God’s forgiveness and grace to help you in your daily life.

Let your kids benefit from lessons you learned the hard way. Realize that there may be times when your kids – especially teens – can learn valuable lessons from hearing about your own past sins or painful experiences. Be willing to share your stories with discretion, if you believe they can benefit your kids. Be sure to deal with the issues involved and find spiritual and emotional peace before discussing them, however, so you don’t just vent and do more harm than good. Give your kids the chance to ask question about what you tell them, and be completely honest in your responses. Don’t just dwell on the negative; let them know the positive ways God worked in your life to bring healing for your mistakes and wounds.

Remember what life was like for you when you were your kids’ ages. Enhance your ability to offer your children empathy and emotional support by recalling your own thoughts and feelings when you were their ages. Use that information to help you reach out in love to your kids.

Use milestone moments as markers of spiritual maturity. Help your kids know where they’ve been and where they’re going on their spiritual journeys by celebrating milestones like baptism, communion, preparing for adolescence, sexual purity, and the rite of passage into adulthood. Hold a ceremony to mark the event. Use symbols (such as a ring to symbolize trust in your child’s pledge to remain sexually pure until marriage) to concretely commemorate each milestone. Give your kids a special gift. Plan a party. Let your kids know that you applaud their spiritual progress.

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Adapted from The Power of Teachable Moments: Using Everyday Experiences to Teach Your Child About God by Jim Weidmann and Marianne Hering, copyright 2004 by Focus on the Family. A Focus on the Family book published by Tyndale House Publishers, Wheaton, Ill., www.tyndale.com.

Jim Weidmann serves Focus on the Family as executive director of Heritage Builders Ministry, the parent ministry of The Family Night Guy. He is heard weekly on more than 300 radio stations on the Family Night Guy radio program. Jim is also vice chairman of the National Day of Prayer Task Force. With Joe White, he is the co-author of The Spiritual Mentoring of Teens, another Focus on the Family Heritage Builders resource. As a popular author and speaker, Jim enjoys showing parents how to teach their children biblical principles. He lives in Colorado with Janet, his wife of 20 years, and their four children.

Marianne Hering lives in Colorado with her husband, daughter, and twin sons. She is the former editor of Focus on the Family Clubhouse Magazine and has written hundreds of magazine articles and numerous books, including Focus on the Family Clubhouse Activity Book.