While Eliza Lian-Ding’s children were younger, there were times when communication just broke down. Voices were raised during quarrels and doors were slammed shut as all discussion came to an end.

But then, angry handwritten notes would slip beneath the doors, penned by either of her two children who were too furious to talk but were more than ready to air their grievances.

“I’m upset with you. Why did you say that?” Emily, her daughter, would write.

“Writing to each other gave us an outlet when talking didn’t work,” recalls Eliza, “and I would pay attention. It could have been things I did—maybe I was too quick to judge or hadn’t listened to the full story before shutting them off.” Sometimes, she would write back to her children.

The exchange of notes helped, says Emily.

It kept the door open to reconciliation and kept communication lines open, even when both sides were mad.

Today, Eliza continues to be close to both Emily and Wesley.

Eliza believes this has been helped by the connection that she has tried to build with them over the years, which has in turn helped her to build a firm foundation of faith in her children.

Why Staying Connected Is Important

If parents want to raise their children up in the way of the Lord, they need to build a deep emotional and spiritual attachment with their children, Eliza believes.

This attachment isn’t just about the feelings that parents have for their children; it needs to be expressed in the care that mums and dads give their kids on a daily basis.

“Children enter this world naturally ready to connect,” she says.

If a child doesn’t feel he is worthy of his own parent’s care and attention, he may not understand how God the Father cares for him.

“When a baby receives consistent caregiving that is responsive, attentive, and empathic, the child develops a secure relationship. And when there is trust in that relationship, we are more able to teach with our words and actions about who God is.”

According to Eliza, a counselling psychologist and author of A Guide to Purposeful Parenting, the attachment that a parent forms with a child is unique.

Caregivers like domestic helpers can change, while grandparents may not be as strict on discipline.

“When a child doesn’t have a deep relationship with his own parent, he may feel insecure and have doubts about his sense of worth,” she says. “And that can affect the child’s relationship with God.”

Eliza decided to switch to part-time work when her first child arrived, so that she could spend more time with her daughter and later, her son.

While this was not an easy decision, she and her husband agreed that it was important for their children.

Mothers, stresses Eliza, need to be confident in the fathers’ ability to take care of their kids.

It was only when her kids grew a bit older that she slowly began to take on more work in the evenings or on weekends, when her husband was at home.

However, she stresses that the quality of the time spent with their kids was just as important as the quantity.

A child often uses his relationship with his parents as a “template” for other relationships, including that with God, she notes.

If a child doesn’t feel he is worthy of his own parent’s care and attention, he may not understand how God the Father cares for him.

And if his parent is absent most of the time, he may not understand how God is always there for him. That will affect his faith and relationship with God.

Eliza takes her inspiration from Deuteronomy 6:6-7, which emphasises that parents need to have God’s word in their own hearts all the time, and to take every opportunity to teach their kids about God’s will.

“There are natural opportunities all around us for understanding what it means to live in God’s world and how He wants us to relate to Him,” she notes.

So, how can a parent build a deep loving and lasting connection with a child, even in this modern world when everybody is busy? Here are some suggestions from Eliza.

1. Ensure Your Child Feels Loved

Being around as much as possible, reminding the child that he is loved or that she is beautiful as God made her, and having an involved role in caregiving is important, says Eliza.

When her children were young, she would express her feelings for them physically, bathing them tenderly and nursing their wounds, for example.

She also tried to spend as much time as she could, listening to them share about their day and their feelings and thoughts—while making sure to set aside distractions such as her own phone and the TV.

Even fathers can build a deep attachment with children, and show them what God’s compassion and love looks like (Psalm 103:13, John 15:9).

Her husband, Sam, took over much of the care of Emily when Eliza went back to part-time work in the evenings. He became “very competent” at changing her diapers as an infant, and even learnt to braid her hair.

Mothers, stresses Eliza, need to be confident in the fathers’ ability to take care of their kids.

“Does the mum communicate this sense of trust to the child? If you are insecure in letting your husband take care of the child, the child will only want the mum. It’s a role we share.”

Emily agrees. Her dad’s love, she says, has shaped her impression of what God is like.

“My dad was very expressive. There was always a lot of hugs. That’s the image I have of God the Father. I think of someone who is not only strong and able to do things, but is also very warm, caring, and emotional.”

2. Listen To Your Child

Building a connection also means getting to know your child well—not just his personality, but also his likes and dislikes, what’s on his heart and mind, his dreams, and what his world is like.

Eliza has found the best time to find out more about her children is just before bedtime.

“All kinds of stuff will come out when they are relaxed,” she says.

“Our children catch our values from our lives. If we have trouble trusting in God, our children will know. They can see our lifestyle, our priorities, our actions,”

“Ask what is one high and low moment today, and help them reflect on and examine where God has been in their day and how He has helped them. Listen to their prayer—if you listen carefully, you can know what’s on their hearts, and what they are upset about.”

And listening, she stresses, means not lecturing.

“It’s important to be good listeners and to hear them out, and not just be forceful about things that have to be done our way. We can be quick to judge. I don’t have to like everything my son does, just like he doesn’t have to like what I do. But we can still learn about each other’s interests and talk about them respectfully.”

Emily affirms this. “Children want parents to show real interest in them and in what they do, and not say, ‘That’s not important, why are you wasting your time on this?’ When parents make the effort to engage them, children will recognise it.”

3. Show Children Your Passion For God

Setting a godly example for your children goes beyond being careful with how you behave in front of them.

Children are also watching the way you relate to God yourself—from the priority you give Him in your life and your passion for His Word, to how you trust Him in times of trouble and rely on His wisdom when making decisions.

“Our children catch our values from our lives. If we have trouble trusting in God, our children will know. They can see our lifestyle, our priorities, our actions,” says Eliza.

“Everything we do, all our choices about how our time and money are spent tells them loudly about what matters to us.”

“It’s important to be good listeners and to hear them out, and not just be forceful about things that have to be done our way.

It is a principle drawn from Deuteronomy 4:9–10: “Watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them.”

Jesus, too, said, “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you” (John 13:15).

So, how parents treat others—especially people who serve them, such as domestic helpers, employees, and waiters—can show their kids what respect means.

And, when husbands and wives show they are faithful to each other, it says a lot about trust. “Children are most secure when parents love each other and show it,” she says.

This approach made a greater impact on Emily and her brother than simply telling them what the Bible says, says Emily.

“When my brother and I complained about people, they would try to get us to think about what was going on in other people’s heads, and how to respond in a different way as Christians,” she says.

“It wasn’t just ‘Jesus says this and the Bible says that’, but having a Christian worldview. That was more important.”

4. Teach With Feeling

A deep, sincere love for your kids and for God will translate into teaching them about Him with passion, as well as including Him as part of everyday conversation.

When her kids were much younger, instead of simply telling them that God made them, Eliza would talk about the body parts that God made as she bathed them gently.

“It’s not an Asian thing, but we need to learn to say sorry, because we also make mistakes. This will help our children understand how we can repair relationships and be redeemed.”

She was very much inspired by the psalmist’s words of wonder in Psalm 139:13–18: “You created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”

“As we communicate that tenderness and marvel at the wonder of God’s creation, we can help children understand that we’re connecting them with something far bigger,” she says.

And when she tried to stop her son from scratching at a scab and making it worse, she talked about how there was “a miracle going on inside”.

“I tried to give him a different perspective, and not just about the body healing itself,” she says. “If we ourselves marvel at God’s creation, our children will pick it up.”

5. Say “I’m Sorry”

Eliza admits that she lost her temper often when the kids were younger. She said things she didn’t mean, yelled at her children and got frustrated.

Her daughter Emily recalls with a laugh, “There was a lot of door slamming when I was younger. I can’t remember who was doing it.”

But her mother was always ready to apologise when she realised she was in the wrong.

“As we communicate that tenderness and marvel at the wonder of God’s creation, we can help children understand that we’re connecting them with something far bigger,”

“I would say sorry to God, sorry to my spouse, to my children. I would reflect on my actions, and make deliberate attempts to do things differently. Like, instead of yelling out instructions to my son from across the room, I would go to him.”

She realised that the instruction, “In your anger do not sin: do not let the sun go down while you are still angry” (Ephesians 4:26), applied to parents’ treatment of their own children as much as it did to anyone else.

For Ephesians 6:4 also reminds parents, “Do not exasperate your children”.

Being authentic about her mistakes, says Eliza, has helped her build a deeper connection with her kids.

“It’s not an Asian thing, but we need to learn to say sorry, because we also make mistakes,” she notes. “This will help our children understand how we can repair relationships and be redeemed.”

Never Too Late To Start

Building a strong connection with their children can help parents nurture their kids’ faith, as it gives them a personal perspective and sense of what God’s love feels like.

Parents also need to remember that everything they do—how they treat others around them—can also give children the right (or wrong) impression of what the Christian faith means in practical terms.

But Eliza stresses that parents are not expected to be perfect.

In fact, if they build strong connections with their children, these will help them to get past moments of hurt and anger, and past the times when parents themselves make mistakes.

This truth has given Eliza much assurance when she has slipped up. “There are lots of opportunities to make up. It doesn’t have to devastate relationships—it’s not the end of the world.”

Parents can show their kids that they trust God—even in building these connections, she says.

Concludes Eliza: “Everything we do in our relationship gives us the opportunity to show how we trust God, and our children will see it.”

Eliza’s Tips On Connecting With Your Kids

  • Learn to listen to your child without giving judgment.
  • Put away distractions (e.g. your phone) when talking to your child. Show that you’re truly interested.
  • Your child appreciates your efforts to engage him—even if he may not seem to show it.
  • Remember that how you treat others (your spouse, family members, friends, others) can shape your child’s perspective of God.
  • Learn to express your feelings for your child in physical, tangible ways, to show him how much you care for him.