Teaching kids to love their neighbor

Written by Kayla Craig
Published on February 16, 2023

In the middle of a blizzard, our family loaded up a moving truck and relocated to a new home in a new neighborhood in a new city. Bundled in puffy parkas and weather-proof hats, all six of us shook the snow off our boots and lugged box after box up the winding stairs. 

When our cheeks were rosy with borderline frostbite and we could barely feel our fingers, we took a break, boiling water for hot cocoa in our new kitchen. 

“Do you think there are kids in our new neighborhood?” my son asked. 

“I hope so,” I answered as I watched a new layer of snow blanket our new yard. 

Our giant U-Haul drew attention in our quiet neighborhood. Retired grandpas stopped by with a curious gaze and a hearty handshake, and curious neighborhood kids skipped down the freshly shoveled sidewalks, hoping to catch a glimpse of the new kids in town. 

“I think we’re going to be just fine,” I whispered to my son—and to myself. 

The greatest commandment 

In Mark 12:30-31, Jesus says there is no commandment greater than these: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (NIV). 

What does it look like to love our actual neighbor? And as families, how can we teach our kids to embody the call of Christ to love our neighbor as ourselves? 

As winter turned to spring and we all started to thaw out, my family began to get to know our neighbors. We reflect an array of backgrounds and beliefs. Our yard signs are all different—and what a gift it is to enter into life together. We are all better for it. 

As we approach one year of learning new ways of seeing God in our neighborhood and embodying new ways to love our neighbor, I’ve learned a few things about presence and proximity. 

Simple ways to grow in love of a neighbor 

1. Be present. 

So much about being a neighbor who cares is simply showing up. So, as a family, we’ve prioritized presence by spending time in the local park. Kids have such an innate sense of being inclusive of new friends. And once children connect, it’s a beautiful and easy way to break the ice with grown-ups. Children point us back not only to the holy invitation to laugh and play, but to love our neighbor as ourselves too.

2. Pay attention. 

I met one of my neighbors because our kids are the same age. More than once, we’ve been at the same place at the same time. She always remembers my name and goes out of her way to say hi. Being new to town, the way that she cares enough to see me and know me reminds me that I am loved, and points me to pay attention and extend that same warmth to my fellow neighbor. In Isaiah 43:1, we’re reminded that God calls us by name. I am teaching my kids the importance of extending hospitality by simply paying attention.

3. Grow in generosity. 

During the pandemic, my husband perfected his sourdough bread recipe. Though I’m thrilled that he has become such a prolific baker, we don’t always need five loaves of freshly baked bread on our counter. We’ve made it a practice to share with our neighbors (and ask if they’re gluten-free first!). 

We live in such an individualistic world, and getting out and simply sharing with the people we live in proximity to is one way to love our neighbor as ourselves. It’s one way we can embody the communal generosity we see in Acts 4:32-37. 

We model this for our kids by having them join us as we deliver bread (or tomatoes from our garden or a fistful of wildflowers) to our neighbors. We want our kids to know that the people around us matter to God—and to our family. No strings attached.

4. Care for creation. 

When our neighborhood park had a clean-up day, I was thrilled to jump on board. But then my daughter had a diaper blow-out and one of my sons had a meltdown and I was behind on a work deadline. Though we didn’t have a chance to join our neighbors on clean-up day, we’ve now made it a practice to take care of our shared spaces by picking up litter and tending to the green spaces. Caring for creation is a simple way to steward what God has given us and love our neighbor in the process. 

5. Pray together. 

Integrating rhythms of prayer into family life can seem daunting, but my kids have taught me the beauty of an ongoing conversation with God. When I told my five-year-old one of our neighbors was sick, he didn’t hesitate to jump into prayer. Being faithful in prayer for those around us is a seemingly simple—yet profound—way to integrate our love for God and neighbor.

It’s easy to overcomplicate what it is to love our neighbor as ourselves. By simply showing up, paying attention, being generous, caring for creation, and entering into prayer as families, we can learn in new ways what it is to see the Imago Dei (image of God) in our neighbor as well as ourselves. And I think that’s good news for everyone.

Consider a few extra resources:

Raising your child to be kind in a divisive world: Three ways to cultivate a selfless mindset

Summer traditions: Teaching our children to pray for the world

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Kayla Craig

Kayla Craig is the author of To Light Their Way: A Collection of Prayers & Liturgies for Parents. A former journalist, she is adamant about paying attention and embracing curiosity in her work as a writer and podcast producer. She writes nuanced, nurturing prayers at Liturgies for Parents on Instagram, and professionally, she writes, produces, and edits prayers and podcasts for Christian spiritual formation. Kayla and her pastor-husband, Jonny, live in Iowa, where they’re raising four young kids who joined their family via birth and adoption. When she’s not playing LEGOs with her sons or advocating for her daughter with disabilities, Kayla can be found sipping strong coffee. You can connect with Kayla at kaylacraig.com and on Instagram @kayla_craig and @liturgiesforparents.

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