A Child’s faith must be grown just right.

When the renowned child-development theorist Jean Piaget traveled in the U.S., audiences inevitably asked what became known as “the American question.” It contained two parts. First, Americans asked, “Can we accelerate the emergence of the stages of mental growth you describe?” (Further research proved this impossible.) Second, “Is it better to do nothing at all and just let maturing ‘happen’?” Again, the answer was no.

The man who revolutionized our understanding of intellectual growth urged avoidance of both extremes: Don’t push kids; yet don’t be passive about their growth. And through it all, he said, remember that children, youth, and adults frame ideas and perceive life in radically different ways.

Most educators heeded Piaget’s advice. But some Christian leaders have turned a deaf ear. These teachers and parents deny children their land of make-believe—their normal world of playful fantasy. They stress math or Bible memorization, but leave little room for the likes of Mary Poppins or Bilbo Baggins. Some so emphasize the accumulation of knowledge that they neglect the cultivation of imagination. In so doing, they rush intellectual growth, ignore age-appropriate instruction, and refuse to let kids be kids.

This errant pattern of education mirrors five misconceptions about faith and psychological development.

Why childlikeness is not childish

Some teachers and parents lump all age groups together when trying to nurture maturity. They fail to see intrinsic differences between children, youth, and adults. Psychologist David Elkind approaches human development differently. He made it a point to ask kids, “Can a dog or cat be Protestant [or Catholic, or Jew, depending on the person’s denomination]?” ...

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