In my conversations with families, this is a question that frequently comes up, especially when their children are young (think a year to two years old or even three or four years old). It is the same question I wrestled with when my children were young, but I have developed an answer which is practical and easy to apply.
The best suggestion I can give is to start at whatever age they are today--don't wait. If they are eighteen months old, great! If they are six years old, awesome! Are they 14? Perfect! The key is to start.
In general, it is important to read to children from birth to even when they are no longer children. There are studies that provide a laundry-list of benefits, so feel free to google "benefits of reading to children" or "benefits of reading to babies" and see what they say. If reading helps child development, how much more will reading the Bible and discussing Bible stories to them.
I can hear you now, "Eric, my child is two. Can she really understand what the Bible says?" The answer is bigger than a simple yes or no, so let's unpack by thinking in terms of modeling, method, and content.
When I say "modeling," I mean the behaviors that we as parents model for our children. Watch your children and see how they model their behavior and patterns after you. Pay attention to mannerisms, word choice, the way they dress--all of these and more they will pick up from you. Even when they are young, they will do this. How many of your children have tried to wear the same outfit you wear or to imitate you in some way?
By sitting down with our young children and reading a story Bible to them on a regular basis, we are modeling the importance of Scripture to them. We are saying, "this is important." As they see us not only sit with them and read, but read the Bible on our own and invest our time and effort in biblical community, our children will see the importance of Jesus. They will start to cultivate a pattern or discipline of Scriptural intentionality that will carry into their adult lives as we do this with them on a consistent basis. Having a devotional time with them is one of the building blocks to spiritual development for them and for us.
Remember, we are not aiming for perfection. Our goal is to be farther along next year than we are today, and to be farther along five years from now than we are next year. This holds true for how we disciple our children too.
The more frequently you have a devotional time with your children, the better you will become at leading that devotional time. But--and this is the key--you cannot improve and you cannot grow unless you start, so don't wait!
Method and Content
The second and third parts of my answer center around method (the "how") and content (the "what"). The next blog post will look at how we do this and can be found here. I want to examine content in terms of younger children (blog post here) and older children, so we will have a blog post focused on each group. Check it out!
P.S. You can find additional ways to equip and disciple your children in my book, Leading Well at Home: How Husbands and Fathers Can Biblically Lead Their Families. Buy it in our store at https://www.entrustingthefaith.com/store.