Children believe in what they cannot see. They seek God. “It’s like there’s a homing device in each of my children,” a mother told me, “God looking to connect with my child as my child looks for God.” When we talk to a child early about God there is an automatic responsiveness.
By contrast, some adults have had negative experiences with religion being drilled into us and want to avoid doing that to others. Some of us feel that spirituality is deeply personal, so children should find their own way. Some of us have no firsthand experience with God and don’t really know what to say.
Our vantage point is different, like in photography.
A mother describes the morning her daughter held the camera, moving through the house clicking at everything she saw.
“Can you show them back to me now?” She holds the camera out to me. Her arm around my neck, we scroll through her photos on the glowing screen.
Frame of a table. A doorknob. A bookshelf skewed on a tilt. Yet her photos surprise, every single one. Why? It takes me a moment to make sense of it.
It’s the vantage point. At 36 inches, her angle is unfamiliar to me and utterly captivating–the study ceiling arches like a dome, her bed a floating barge. The stairs plunge like a gorge. She’s Alice in Wonderland, all the world grown Everest-like around and above her.” (Ann Voskamp)
It is far better to tell children about God, even if you have doubts of your own.
Something simple, like: You can’t see God but he can see you, and he loves you. He is very good and he wants you to have a good life. He hears you when you talk to him. That is called prayer.
Emphasize what God thinks of the child.
C.S. Lewis argued that the most fundamental thing is not how we think of God but rather what God thinks of us–this relentlessly pursuing love, so bold.
Describe God’s nature. This blog’s Resource page has an video description of what I tell children about God. What can you say about God?
Tweetable: It’s more important to tell children what God thinks of them than how they should think of God. Click to Tweet
Living in the moment–one of the foundations of Buddhism. Life is richer when we savor the taste and texture of our meal or lose ourselves in the excitement of a watching a big game.
After the moment is gone, it becomes The Past but it keeps giving us its richness.
The past offers many gifts. It….
- shapes my personality
- teaches cause-and-effect
- contains all of my life lessons
- generates infinite gratitude
- empowers me
- inspires me
- produces family traditions and special rituals
- is the way out of fear and anxiety
- causes me to trust
I talk about the past with children because they deserve all of these gifts.
The past produces family traditions and special rituals.
Start a conversation with, “Remember when we….” and feel the bond of a shared experience. Sometimes these particular memories lead to a new family tradition. One girl was thrilled to be taken out for “English high tea” for her fifth birthday. After reflecting on it with fondness, she asked her mom, “Maybe we could make it a birthday tradition?”
The past causes a child to trust.
Any child would burst with confidence to hear you say: “You used to be such a great helper with your baby brother when you were little; now you are a great babysitter!” Trust increases when children realize that they are important enough to you that you notice their strengths and their growth.
The past contains all of the child’s life lessons.
Sometimes we tell kids stories that are likely to heighten their consciousness of a life lesson: “You didn’t know how to bike to school safely by yourself when you were little and now you do.”
Life can only be understood backward; but it must be lived forward. Soren Kierkegaard
Note: When there’s significant pain in a child’s past, forgetting is a powerful defense mechanism. A child therapist can provide needed reinforcements to help children work through difficulties.
Tweetable: Live in the moment and after it is over, it becomes The Past and keeps giving us and our children its richness. Click to Tweet
Casey (age 9) has been learning to plan ahead so he gets to school on time. [see previous post]. But when he hears his 6:30 alarm, his self-talk thoughts begin:
- “It’s warm in my bed and cold in the house. I’m going to stay here and sleep just a few minutes more.”
- “I’m not hungry, so I can skip breakfast and stay in bed a little longer.”
- “I won’t take a shower because I didn’t get very dirty yesterday. I don’t have to get up quite yet.”
- “The carpool will be late and I don’t like waiting for it, so I’ll stay here for just a minute or two more.”
Casey’s parents are helping him change his self-talk about wake-ups to:
“I know I would enjoy sleeping longer, but it is more important to comb my hair right now. I don’t want to spend all day with hair problems. I want to eat a good breakfast so I won’t feel hollow inside. I’m going to stick with the plan.”
Reinforcement encourages Casey to continue.
When he carries out his plan, Casey’s parents reinforce the behavior. “You did it!” or “Way to go!” But more importantly, they show them him how to listen for his own inner voice–his human spirit–telling him, “Well done! I did think about sleeping a little longer but I told myself that I wanted to have time to eat a bowl of cereal and I did!”
His parents show him how by practicing self-talk themselves.
When Casey is around, his mom says things like,”I controlled my anger. I did get mad at that kid, but I told myself not to yell at her and I didn’t! I put up with my frustrating feelings and they went away.”
They include a provision for what to do in case Casey fails.
They know it’s not the end of the world when Casey doesn’t do it perfectly. Casey’s father said, “We’ve been talking together at the dinner table almost every night about what Casey has been planning and doing. He wants to be responsible and independent.”
“Today he was late for the carpool and we asked him what he said to himself about it. Casey told us, ‘I told myself I want to hang in there. I’m not going to quit trying. I will teach myself to do what I really want to do.’
“I think Casey’s brain is gradually rewiring itself so he can think and plan.”
Tweetable: Self-talk helps children teach themselves to do what they really want to do. Here’s how. Click to Tweet
Psychologist Candace Backus shared these principles before she passed earlier this year.
If you were to ask Casey (age 9), “What are you going to do tomorrow?” he would probably reply, “I don’t know. I’ll wait and see.” Sometimes this attitude causes trouble for him.
When it is time to go to school, he is hardly ever ready. Most school mornings he is racing around to comb his hair and find his shoes. He arrives late at his friends’ birthday parties and when his mother had a birthday, he did not think to make her a card or give her a present.
Whenever the neighborhood boys talk about what sports they want to play next season or what they will be doing on Sunday, Casey cannot think of anything to say.
When Casey told his aunt about it, she had an idea that she hoped would strengthen his planning skills.
Notice these things in the story below about how Casey’s aunt enters into his world:
- He doesn’t know about tomorrow so she uses the language of today.
- He’s a fun-loving boy so she makes up a game.
Planning is the same as closing your eyes and pretending–like playing a game.
Let’s pretend that today is your birthday. How many people are at your party? Who are they? What games are you playing? What are your friends doing at the party? What day of the week is it? Is it morning? afternoon? What is everyone eating? When you open your presents, what is inside? She repeats the game with other events like Christmas and vacation.
Casey learns that he has the ability to think about any day he chooses.
Pretend that it is tomorrow (a school day with a 7:30 carpool pick-up) and pretend that you are doing what you need to do to be on time without hurrying. How are you waking up (i.e. alarm clock or family member)? What time are you getting up? What are you eating for breakfast? Are you taking a shower? Where is your backpack (shoes, comb)? While Casey is still imagining tomorrow in the scene he created…..
…his aunt asks, What did you do to be sure you were ready for the carpool?
She waits while Casey tries to answer, and in so doing, he tells himself what to do to be ready on time. At one point she helped him realistically re-work his plan when she sensed that he was far off-track.
But wait–there’s more. Next week: How Casey’s self-talk helps him plan successfully.
Tweetable: How children can learn that planning is the same as closing your eyes and pretending, like playing a game. Click to Tweet
Casey’s aunt said she learned these principles from psychologist Candace Backus before Ms. Backus passed earlier this year.