God’s understudy: spirituality for kids in performing arts

God’s understudy: spirituality for kids in performing arts

theater curtainIs performing arts a passion for one of the kids in your life? Here’s an idea that may make sense to them as they continue to develop their spiritual life.

Be God’s understudy.

God’s understudy–learning, listening, practicing so we can stand in for God in the world around us. Say yes to continually learning your part and be ready at a moment’s notice to stand in for God.

What does that look like in daily life?

That might mean protecting someone being bullied at school, helping an elderly neighbor with yard work, or being careful to throw trash away rather than on the ground. It is living out two of the general moral rules we learn:

  • do no harm and
  • do good

Amid the diversity and magnificence of nature, we have work to do, and that is to take care of the oceans, of plants and animals, and of people, as we have opportunity.

stage-doorWhat similarities do you see to being a theatre understudy?

  1. Rehearsal does not exist. “You are responsible to know the role whether or not you get to do it on its feet. You have no other option than to live in the moment,” says Broadway understudy Bret Shuford.
  2. It feels a bit like skydiving.  Shuford continues, “Especially the first performance you go on, it’s a rush like nothing you’ve ever experienced. The scariest part is taking the first leap, but remember a beautiful, loving, cast and crew will always be there support you. You will surprise some people at what you’re able to accomplish in the role, and you may even surprise yourself.”
  3. Imitation is the highest form of flattery–sort of. An understudy has to replicate what the original star is doing, to a degree. “You have to honor the performance of the actor you’re covering,” explains Merwin Foard, who has covered 30 actors in 16 Broadway shows. “You don’t want to mimic… but you want to bring your own version of [the role] to life.”

high school rehearsalChallenging things, bad things, happen to the people around us.

Trouble and hardship are part of living. But faith means trusting that the God of heaven and earth loves us, walks with us, and sustains us through troubles. As God’s understudies, we hang in there with other people to make life more bearable, more livable and more joyful.

Tweetable: Our world could use more people who, like theatre understudies, stand in for God, in everyday life. Read more. Click to Tweet

Know any performing arts students who are spiritual? They may like the metaphor of being God’s understudy. Click to Tweet


Look at a child’s self-talk to help unstick anxiety or depression

Look at a child’s self-talk to help unstick anxiety or depression

teen girl-in-thoughtWhen bad things happen, children feel sad, angry or worried.  But what they tell themselves about what happened makes a big difference.

When self-talk contributes to a child’s anxiety

At the core of anxiety is the child’s fear of what is going to happen in the future, compounded by the accompanying self-talk.

  • My parents will get a divorce. (I won’t have a real family anymore.)
  • There’s going to be a shooting at my school. (The world is a scary place to live. More bad things happen than good things.)
  • I have to give a report in front of the whole class. (I can’t do it. It’s too hard for me.)
  • My best friend will move away. (If I lose my best friend, I’ll never have another best friend again!)

12yearold boy2When self-talk contributes to a child’s depression

Depression is about the past. At the core of depression is the loss of something dear, with the accompanying messages the child gives himself.

  • Someone in my family became addicted to alcohol or drugs. (If I’m very good–or careful or funny–I can keep them from drinking too much.)
  • My mother lost her job. (This is the worst thing that could have happened, and it is terrible and awful.)
  • Kids at school made fun of me. (No one cares about me. It’s all my fault.)
  • Someone I love died. (Life will never be good again. I’m incapable of keeping the relationships I really want.)

4 actions we can take toward unsticking their self-talk

Action #1 – Any time the child appears to be overly anxious or depressed, ask the child to tell you what he is thinking about or telling himself. Listen for self-talk lies in their response. Check with the child to see if you understood clearly. Acknowledge the child’s response, BUT……

Action #2 —  Give them new phrases to use. Help the child reject the faulty conclusions they’ve drawn. As soon as you hear them repeating the misbeliefs, stop and help the child argue against them. Hand them phrases to use. Say to the child:

  • “Tell yourself, ‘It’s not true that I can’t do anything right'” or
  • “Tell yourself, ‘Stop! I’m not going to tell myself this lie anymore!'”

Action #3 – This is perhaps the hardest part, but we cannot help children get rid of the lies in their self-talk until they replace the lies with the truth. Again, give them the words to use, maybe something like this:

  • Lie: I’m too fat (short, ugly). Truth: Bodies come in all shapes and sizes. Mine is my own and I will make it the best it can be by caring for it properly.
  • Lie:  I’ll never fit in at this new school. Truth: It’s hard to say good-bye to my old school and friends, but I will make new friends and have good times here, too.
  • Lie: I’ll just die if my mom starts dating again. Truth: It’s okay to feel sad and worried, but it’s not okay to get stuck there.

Action #4 – What says CELEBRATION! to the child? Stop and do it with her she when she succeeds in establishing positive self-talk:

  • “The truth is everyone has things they are good at and things that are hard for them. Reading is hard for me, so I will just have to work harder at reading. Plus, it’s true that it always okay to ask for help when I need it, so if I need extra help, I’ll ask my teacher or parents”.
  • ”With the help of the people who love me (and God’s help) I can get through anything.”

(I learned these actions from Linda Sibley.)


  • Focus on a child’s self-talk for clues about how to lessen anxiety and depression. Click to Tweet
  • When bad things happen, children feel upset, but what they tell themselves about what happened makes the difference. Click to Tweet
3 ways to cheer up a child: self-talk

3 ways to cheer up a child: self-talk

child with rabbitsJayaram V. observes, “[Self-talk] is your inseparable twin with which you have to live the rest of your life.” (writing on Hinduwebsite.com) We cheer up the children in our life when we show them how to ensure that their inseparable twin is affirming and truthful.

grandmother1st way to cheer up a child: We are in this together

For one week, speak freely about your self-talk. Say out loud what you’re telling yourself in your head, especially if it’s negative (keeping it age appropriate, obviously). Invite them to tell you when you either are not taking responsibility for your own behavior by blaming someone else, OR assuming responsibility for something that is not your fault.

Simultaneously call your kids’ attention to times they are doing the same thing. There is huge relief for children in shared experience.

2nd way to cheer up a child: You have the power to reject your lies

“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose.” (Dr. Seuss)

In other words, the child gets to choose not to believe the myths anymore. Rejecting their lies is a conscious choice they make. They are the boss of their thoughts. This is great news!

3rd way to cheer up a child: Replace the lies with affirmations

teen girl01To reject certain statements as lies without replacing them with truth can send children into chaos: “If this is not true, what is?”

With pieces of their belief system missing, they don’t know who they are, what they’re supposed to do, or how things are supposed to work.

Ask questions that lead the child to reality: “Was it even your fault you weren’t at soccer practice? …. What was true?” Saying things out loud lets you listen to what you’re saying. Taking responsibility for failures comes easier when we’re open about it.

Spiritual affirmations

These affirmations can be adapted for your family’s values and beliefs.

  • I am important to God. God gives me the power to make a difference.
  • Some things are my fault and some are not. God helps me know the difference.
  • With the help of God and the people who love me, I can get through anything.
  • I can tell myself the truth. God can help me handle my anger in safe and healthy ways.
  • I cannot lose God’s love.
  • I am God’s child.
  • I am secure in God’s hand. Nothing I could ever do will ever make God let go of me.
  • I have a purposeful future. God has a good plan for my life.
  • I can trust God to guide me, even if it doesn’t make sense at the time.

Games and conversation starters

For games and conversation starters to change negative self-talk and have fun doing it, go here.


  • These suggested spiritual affirmations can give children a foundation for positive self-talk. Click to Tweet
  • Practical actions we can take to challenge a child’s misinterpretations in their self-talk. Go here. Click to Tweet
Big self-talk stumble: mis-attributing success or failure

Big self-talk stumble: mis-attributing success or failure

boy older divingHow do you explain why something good or bad happens in your life? To what do you attribute your successes and/or failures? Our self-talk generally gravitates toward holding ourselves responsible or charging others. But sometimes it is jumbled up.

Listen for how children attribute the good and the bad in life.

Certain children tend to put the responsibility for all failures on their own flaws and weaknesses: “I failed the test because I’m so dumb.”

On the other hand, they attribute all successes to fate, a bizarre circumstance, or someone else’s charity. “I got an A on the test because the teacher made the test too easy.”

Some children tend to attribute all their successes to their own ingenuity, good looks and great ability. Success is because of ME, even if there were others involved: “The play was a success because I had the lead (never mind the efforts of everyone else in it!)”

On the other side of the coin, they attribute all failures to everyone else’s ineptness and/or circumstances beyond their control. “I failed that test because the teacher made it so hard no one could pass (even though more than half the class did).”

sports team boys“Poor me” or “Lucky me”

Hear the patterns in how children report life events, such as their school day or their recent soccer game. Sometimes these spoken statements become their self-talk and sometimes their self-talk surfaces in their spoken words.

The self-talk of children who blame themselves goes something like this: “Life doesn’t have many good things for me.” Or “If I fail, I will lose my value and I cannot let myself risk it.” Self-talk of kids who blame others can sound like, “I have nothing to apologize for.” Or  “Life owes me happiness and success.” Or “Why am I in trouble for fighting? Joe hit me first so it’s his fault I was fighting.”

Our actions can help them find balance. Conversation Starters —

  • “Whose responsibility is it really?”This week, call attention to times the children are either not taking responsibility for their behavior or assuming responsibility for something that’s not their fault. When this happens, ask them to “say what is true” about whose fault it is.
  • “Brainstorm your evidence.” Guide the children to stop and be mindful about their self-talk, rather than continue on autopilot. Reject the faulty self-talk by brainstorming with the child all the reasons why he or she knows it is not true: “Dad breaks promises to lots of people, not just me; there’s nothing I can do about the fact he goes out with his friend lots of Saturdays,” and so on.

Game: Make-A-Monster Scavenger Hunt

Illustrate that the lies we tell ourselves can add up to a monster voice living in our heads.  Send the kids outside to find junk materials to build a monster: dead sticks and leaves, old cans, stones and other “junk.” This monster is the lies we tell ourselves. Have a variety of miscellaneous materials they can also use, such as yarn, markers, glue sticks, tape, buttons, etc. Let them create the biggest monster they can.  [With younger kids, you could keep it for a week and, each time they correct their self-talk, unattach one monster section and trash it.]

Tweetable: Conversation starters and a scavenger hunt illustrate for children how to overlay new, positive self-talk statements. Click to Tweet

Challenge kids’ misbeliefs about happiness

Challenge kids’ misbeliefs about happiness

merry go round children kidsHappiness is a funny thing–Is it even possible to be happy all the time? Where do we find the right people or things to make us happy more often? Are any of the children in your life growing up with the impression that life (or God) owes them happiness?

Children’s statements reflect their beliefs about happiness and become their self-talk.

  • “If __ hadn’t happened, I’d be happy now.”
  • “Other people’s lives are happier than mine.”
  • If I just had __ I’d be happy.”
  • If I don’t have __, I will never be happy.”

mother and son-3Raise awareness

They don’t realize that their focus has turned to the things they don’t have. While it’s obvious to us that loving relationships and basic needs being met will increase enjoyment of life, children may not yet understand that these don’t produce happiness. We can help them see that they set themselves up for disappointment when they depend on external sources for their happiness.

Change self-talk to get unstuck

  • “Happiness is about who I am, not about what I have–or don’t have–in my life.”
  • Other people’s lives have more unhappiness than I know about. We all have stress and troubles. That’s normal.”

The role of spirituality in a child’s happiness

There’s a place in each child’s being, typically referred to as the soul or heart or human spirit. When children become aware of God’s presence in that space, some find inner stability, which helps them hold onto hope…. like this girl in a domestic violence Safe Place (where I taught life skills).

Specifically, notice her self-talk and her spirituality.

blue skyBlue. I used to love the color blue. When I saw the color blue I loved it. But while we were on our journey homeless, I realized that the color blue wasn’t as blue as I thought, because I wasn’t in a feeling of happiness. Every time I looked at the sky it reminded me of the pain we were going through.

I few times when I lay in bed, I would think about–is there any hope that God could give us? I used to feel bad for myself but I told myself to pray more and ask God to give me the strength to get through the day. God heard my prayers. We were moving in a house where my mom could make us food. And where we all could communicate. All the stuff God gives me is like gold to me because he gives me things that are really amazing in my eyes.”

Tweetable: What children tell themselves about happiness may hinder our efforts to show them a good time. Here’s how. Click to Tweet 

Thanks to Linda Sibley for her thoughts here about this.

Help kids know if their self-talk is truth or myth

Help kids know if their self-talk is truth or myth

mother and sonIf we are going to help children find the misbeliefs in their self-talk and get rid of them, we should understand how they got there in the first place. They are not arbitrary. They come from somewhere, commonly from….

  • Hearing something repeatedly
  • Not being told something they needed to hear
  • Being left on their own emotionally when they were very young to handle a traumatic life event

Truth or Myth?  How can they tell the difference?

Consider this standard of evaluation and tailor it to fit your values and beliefs.



TRUTH. . .

  • are judgmental
  • are critical
  • are accusatory
  • tear down
  • destroy
  • produce fear
  • take away hope
  • is forgiving
  • gives value
  • allows mistakes
  • builds up
  • strengthens
  • gives peace
  • gives hope


“The lies we tell other people are nothing compared to the lies we tell ourselves.”
Derek Landy

Where can children look to find truth about themselves?

father and baby (3)Kids find truth about themselves in the faces and words of loving, caring adults.

Be intentional about noticing the child’s most intense feelings: hurt, embarrassed, angry, ashamed or afraid. That’s when they are more likely to tell themselves a lie and believe it.  As the adult, speak up with short, truthful statements during these experiences. For example:

  • Parents fighting or arguing: “All parents fight sometimes,“ or “Parents can argue and still love each other.”
  • Child admits she doesn’t want to like her new stepdad because it’s unfair to her dad and it would hurt his feelings if he knew: “It’s okay to let yourself love your stepdad. You can love your dad and like (or even love) your stepdad at the same time. You can never have too many people to love and who love you in your life!”

sacred writingsKids find truth about themselves in sacred writings the family looks to.

As an example, for families who name the Bible as a source of truth, they find statements about themselves – I am God’s child; I cannot lose God’s love; I have a purposeful future; God doesn’t always answer my prayers the way I want, but I know God is still watching over me.

“You desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place.” Psalm 51:6


Conversation starters and games to increase a child’s positive inner speech

Ages 2-5

  1. Taking the photo: “You can do lots of things well. What are some of them?” Guide the child to think of something he or she does well. Then take their picture– running, jumping, riding a bike; or let them choose an object depicting what they do well, such as a ball, spatula or puzzle. Let the child decide who to send the picture to.
  2. Talent Show (at a family gathering or with neighbor kids): Each (preschool) child tells one of the things they do well (e.g. twirling, hugging, whistling, somersault). Give them time “on stage” to do it alone. Then ask him/her to lead the others in doing it too.
  3. Story book: Franklin Rides a Bike

Ages 6-11 – Game: Truth or Lie

(best with extended family or friends) Each person makes a true statement (e.g. favorite color, food, activity; where they go to school). Explain that we will go around again and have them share another statement, only this time they can say something that is true or not true. The others have a chance to guess which it is.

Tweetable: 4 games and activities with kids to strengthen positive self-talk. Go here. Click to Tweet