Sooner or later, every child sees trouble coming into life. Things go wrong. Even young children feel anger, disappointment, grief, pain and loss.
Older kids might not like the design of their body, the parents they got or didn’t get. They are surprised when they first learn that adults aren’t always fair or kind.
They are sad when the people who are supposed to keep them safe don’t do their job. They feel helpless when bad things happen or no one listens to them. Their anxiety level rises.
We cannot take away children’s uncomfortable feelings.
But we can reassure them that they are loved by their parents, family members, friends and very importantly—by God.
Guard against offering them false promises.
For example, when serious marital problems persist, avoid over-promising: “Your mom and I will work things out, and we’ll all be a family again.”
Likewise, we should be familiar with what God promises– and doesn’t promise– and stay true to this when we inform children about God. For instance, we can mislead children: “Say a prayer so that Grandpa will get well.” or “Stop doing that or God will punish you.”
Offer true promises backed up by God’s word and character.
I use several child-centered promises from the sacred writings of the Talmud and New Testament to reassure children in times of trouble. You can find others as well.
- God cares about you.
- God is love and all love comes from God.
- God is trustworthy.
- You will seek Me [God] and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.
- God understands everything you feel inside.
- I [God] am with you and will watch over you wherever you go.
Tweetable: Be accurate about what God promises people and avoid misleading children. Six true promises here. Click to Tweet
At any given age children experience normal fears and anxieties. If a family becomes concerned about a child’s unusually high level of anxiety, plenty of psychological resources exist. But there is an additional, important resource to be found in anchoring children at their core—in their spirit.
We all need a place to take our troubles and fears.
For centuries the Bible has been a reliable source of wisdom and offers a powerful picture of what God is like. In one of it’s most meaningful, familiar passages, the 23rd Psalm, a fearful young man writes his prayer:
“Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”
And much later in the book: “Give all your worries and cares to God, for God cares about you.”
Laura Turner states, “The admonition not to fear is the most frequently repeated instruction in the Bible.”
What my parents did
At a very young age, my parents gave me the following words, recorded in Genesis, spoken by God to Jacob: “I am with you and will keep you in all places.” They explained that nothing could separate me from the love of God, even when harm came to me.
“People have choices,” they said, “and some people hurt others, but when bad things happen to you, God is right there with you. God understands, and you will never be alone.”
Time and time again, these words–God is with me and will keep me in all places–comforted, reassured and built my sense of security not dependent upon my circumstances.
Security–a most valuable gift
Through the dangers, disappointments and losses of my life, God remains a steady presence in the depths of my spirit. I speak of this to the children I love so that they can develop a sense of security rooted in the presence of God and of people who love them.
Note: Bible quotes are Psalm 23:4, Genesis 28:15, 1 Peter 5:7
Tweetable: How my parents instilled a sense of security deep in my spirit that continues to this day. Click to Tweet
Phil Jackson, former NBA player and current general manager of the New York Knicks wrote: “To my father, there were certain mysteries you could only understand with the heart, and intellectualizing about them was a waste of time. He accepted God on faith and lived his life accordingly. This was an important [childhood] lesson for me.”
While there’s trouble and suffering in the universe, it is friendly…
…and we can see evidence of God’s presence countless times every day.
If you want to foster a a child’s sense of security, consider sharing this perspective: God’s intention is for all human beings to live in community with God and then with each another. Our human frailties, not God’s, increase the selfishness and suffering in the world. God is trustworthy.
Help children identify sightings of God’s care
1. The rainbow
On the very day I signed divorce papers, I saw a rainbow in the clearing skies above our condominium (a rare occurrence in Southern California). With my kids in the back seat, I pointed it out. One of my sons said, “Dad, God is near us and we are going to be okay.”
2. God’s “hand” on my face
One mother told her children how her father would tuck her into bed at night and place his hand on her face, soothing her to sleep. She continued, “Now when I can’t get to sleep, I pray and ask God to lay his fatherly hand on my face, and I am able to sleep.”
3. A kind stranger
While shopping with her children, Heather made it to the check-out a bit frazzled. Back at the car her kids piled in, every grocery bag loaded, she slammed the door shut–when she realized she left her wallet in the store. She got out and started unbuckling her children when she saw a man running over to her:
“The cashier let me run this out to you,” he explained. During the ride home, she and her children talked about how the man left his own grocery cart and delayed his day to show kindness to people he didn’t even know. And how they could see God in that man’s actions.
Have fun hunting for sightings of God’s activity with children, in–
- People’s kindness to strangers
- Unexplained events
Tweetable: Sharing God’s intention for the universe may foster a child’s sense of security. And what is that? Click to Tweet
Winnie and her daughter Marissa were watching a nature special together. Winnie noticed a mother eagle feeding, protecting and sheltering her young. This was the picture Winnie had been looking for to help her communicate words of value to her 3-year-old.
Marissa had been a good big sister after her brother was born, running to get a diaper for Winnie or asking to hold the baby. Marissa’s efforts didn’t go unnoticed. Winnie found a small plush toy eagle at a toy store and waited for a quiet time to talk with Marissa. “Do you remember that TV program about the eagles?” she asked Marissa.
Instantly her daughter recalled many details. “Well, honey, I want you to know that you remind me of that mommy eagle. You’ve helped take such good care of your little brother and I want you to know I am proud of you.” For days, Marissa did not let that eagle out of her arms.
By using an object familiar to Marissa to praise her, Winnie communicated much more than a simple compliment. She gave her daughter an image of one way she was so valuable to her mother.*
Communicating a child’s value can be difficult. Familiar objects help.
Use everyday objects and be clear about the meaning of the object.
- My life with you is like waking up to my birthday every day. You are like the best gift I could ever have.
- You’re like that smiley-face sticker. Your happy spirit brightens my day.
- When you played so hard knowing your team was losing, you reminded me of Grandpa. He never gave up. He’d be proud of you, and I am too.
- You’re just like a beaver. No matter how many times his home is wiped out, he rebuilds again. He always repairs and rebuilds.
*The concept of the blessing, Winnie’s story, and some of the ideas for using everyday objects are taken from John Trent’s book The Blessing.
Tweetable: Communicating a child’s value can be difficult. Using familiar objects to picture it can help. Click to Tweet
Regardless of our differences in religion, language or ideas, there is no heart that is without an inner divine reference. And each family seems to have a unique impression about when, how and if God makes known his thoughts and feelings toward them, often referred to as blessings. What impressions about God’s blessing are you imparting to the children in your family?
From one of my interviews about spirituality emerged this family’s image of a God who does not bless, but forgets, entire groups of people.
As a young child, if I questioned my family about God or spiritual things, it was often tossed aside as unimportant and not for people like us, that is, those who God forgets.
My grandmother considered our family in the group of those God forgets because we didn’t go to church and there was just too much disaster and brokenness in our lives.
A second family presents a God whose nature is to bless.
Our parental blessing was invested with a certain higher power, intended for the good of our children.
May God bless you and guard you.
May God show you favor and be gracious to you.
May God show you kindness and grant you peace.
To this day, the blessing is prized highly by the children. The value of the benediction repeatedly spoken by the father and mother represents the working of forces that make for righteousness, and the continuity of the Jewish spirit.*
Adult family members can invoke God’s blessing, in their own words and style:
- Bob Dylan’s parental blessing in song: “May God bless and keep you always….. …May you grow up to be righteous, may you grow up to be true,
May you always know the truth and see the lights surrounding you,
May you always be courageous, stand upright and be strong.
May you stay forever young…..”*
- “God, may the people in my life never be left wondering if they are of value to you or to me. Help me to bless them with my words and my actions. Remind me not to leave my words to chance but use them to protect, encourage and renew.” (my prayer)
- “When inspired, I bless my son noting milestones in his life from the past week and anything else that moves me about my relationship with him. There are no specific formulations to these personal prayers, just simple sentiments like, ‘May you continue to approach the smallest discoveries in life with wonder and joy’ or ‘May I continue to learn how to be the best mother to you.’ (Dasee Berkowitz)
What do your blessings toward your children look like in your family?
*Jewish Encyclopedia: “Ethics of Judaism,” pt. ii., p. 213; Bob Dylan, “Forever Young.” Published by Lyrics © BOB DYLAN MUSIC CO
- Regardless of our differences in religion or ideas no heart is without an inner divine reference. Click to Tweet
- Adult family members can invoke God’s blessing on kids in their own words and style. Some examples here. Click to Tweet
Young children are creatures of routine. As much as they may love the occasional adventure, they feel safer knowing they can fall back into their familiar patterns.
See how this father creates a sense of security by making predictable routines for his son’s life:
“I have been actively guiding and setting boundaries with my little one and I know it takes a lot of practice and consistent monitoring. Generally, he will cry for a moment but then want me to comfort him. Before long he runs off to the next project. It is nice to see that he recovers so quickly. When I keep him and those around him (our dog) safe he does have a good time and laughs a lot.”
The human spirit develops a sense of safety in a similar way.
Basic building blocks of spirituality are
- a healthy sense of oneself as a human being and unique individual
- attending to things of eternal significance
Giving children your undivided attention when issues of self-image, conscience or character show up in your interactions with them will help them develop an inner sense of safety.
The beautiful part is that children with a deep sense of safety– physically, emotionally, and spiritually– give themselves the freedom to explore, risk and discover.
Routines that contribute to growth in their human spirit
Ages 12-36 months
- Name the child’s emotions: When your bath is finished, you feel happy.
- Respond as quickly as possible when the child indicates a need like reaching for a book.
- Fold hands before meals to establish a routine of gratitude.
Ages 3-6 years
- When possible, make snacks and meals at the same time every day, building security around “having enough.”.
- Encourage the child to stay at the table for the duration of the meal for social interaction.
- Keep developing your young child’s inner sense of security with these practical ideas for 18 mo – 6 yrs. Click to Tweet
- Routines here can give young children a sense of safety allowing freedom to explore, risk and discover. Click to Tweet