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
Hopefully these sample answers, which you can adapt to your specific beliefs, provide some seed ideas for conversation. They are written at a child’s vocabulary level. What you are saying and doing now will help lay crucial groundwork for their exploration of God later in life.
You can use any way you want to let God know you love God.
It’s just like you have different ways of letting your family and friends know how you feel. Some kids like to write a letter to God. Most tell God in words they say out loud or keep in their thoughts (this is called prayer). Others draw something that expresses their love, write a poem or a song.
One important way to express your love for God is to love yourself.
Take very good care of yourself. You know many ways to do that, like giving your body enough sleep and healthy food, staying safe by listening to wise adults, and paying attention to your relationship with God. You love God when you admire and care for yourself.
Another way is to love people.
An equally important way to express your love for God is to love people by being as good to them as you are to yourself. That can mean sacrificing your comfort or happiness in order to treat someone well. A lot of trouble would vanish if everyone were as good to other people as they are to themselves.
Spend time with others who love God as much or more than you do.
Your family can help you find a youth group, a church, synagogue, or other place with kids your age who have a connection with God. You can find a sense of belonging. You might learn different ways they use to let God know how much they love God.
Tweetable: What to say when a child asks, “How can I let God know I love God?” Seed ideas here for you to adapt. Click to Tweet
Are we doing children a favor by letting them have the easiest and best of everything? “What distinguishes healthy families is not the absence of problems or suffering but rather their coping and problem solving abilities.” (Froma Walsh)
A good definition of “resilient” is found in Ms. Walsh’s book, Strengthening Family Resilience: “the capacity to rebound from adversity strengthened and more resourceful.”
Ways to let children practice resilience
- Praise a child’s patience with a younger sibling’s interference with their toys, rather than jumping to stop the conflict.
- Encouragement: “You’re a star when it comes to trying new things.”
- Even if you think it’s “too hard” for a child, give him or her independence to try new things they initiate, such as climbing at the playground or opening a container. Let them try things for themselves, even if it means they may fail. Nothing builds resilience like failure– and the realization that you can move on from it.
- Teach children phrases such as “this too shall pass” or “every challenge makes you stronger.” These phrases frame struggles as challenges to overcome, not tests to avoid.*
Resiliency’s spiritual component
Adversity invites all of us, including kids, into the spiritual domain. Strong faith, beliefs, and practices can foster a resilient spirit that lasts a lifetime.
See how these different spiritual beliefs influence a child’s resilience:
- They tried to bury me, but they didn’t know I am a seed. (Mexican proverb)
- Not everything is good, but God causes everything to work together for the good.
- “…though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me….” (Psalm 23)
- “Get up rejoicing. It’s a new day… with a will, there’s a way.” (M. Izunwa)
What spiritual beliefs in your family’s heritage influence resilience?
Note: Credit goes to Chelsea Smith for the Ideas to practice resilience.
- Strong faith beliefs and practices can foster a resilient spirit in kids that lasts a lifetime. Click to Tweet
- Do we really do kids a favor by giving them the easiest and best of everything? Some thoughts on resilience. Click to Tweet
Many times, a personal story sheds a brighter light on the subject than moralizing. Rather than telling a child facing a question or decision what to do, telling them a story from your own life can be much more helpful. It helps them think creatively and gives them the confidence that they can come to their own solutions.
When children raise questions, our ideal response is to hear them out and invite more dialog. Lisa Miller uses something like: “You bring such important questions to the family;” or “When I was a child I wondered that, too. I am so happy you are sharing these thoughts with me.”
Consider what spiritual stories you can tell the children in your life.
A friend of mine (mother of three teens) who does this says, “It could be about a time you failed, a time you needed God, a time you doubted God, a time you were surprised by something you couldn’t explain, a time when you sensed God communicating something to you. And consider what beliefs of yours came out of these experiences.”
Questions to help adults remember our spiritual stories we can share with kids:
- What beliefs define your decision-making process?
- What do you believe about how you will relate to people? Strangers, enemies, wrongdoers, immediate family, etc.
- How do you relate to God?
- When have you had times of doubt when God felt very far away?
- What/who are your trusted sources that informed your spiritual progression, growth and wisdom?
- What gives your life purpose and meaning?
- How did you arrive at your present spiritual place?
Our spiritual stories don’t have to be noble or positive. The power comes from it being real and being yours.
Note: Some of the ideas for questions were inspired by Tom Rapsas on StoryCorps.
- Tell kids your spiritual story. They’re still forming a moral compass and our experiences inspire. Click to Tweet
- Seven questions here that help adults remember our spiritual stories we can share with kids.
The tightrope walk may be an apt analogy for one’s teen years. Exhilarating and risky, these years are better navigated following some serious practice time/strength training and a safety net.
“Researchers are beginning to discover the importance of being a spiritual person, especially for teens,” according to Larry Forthun, associate professor at the University of Florida.
What spiritual components comprise practice time/strength training?
- At least one positive friend. Scott, a high school senior, lives with his sister and her boyfriend. Scott found a supportive church youth group. These friends encourage him as he works on submitting college applications and they understand when he says his connection with God is a top priority.
- Nonjudgmental adult(s) with whom to talk freely about emotional, spiritual, intellectual questions or doubts. One such adult said, “We are in an unending narrative of life, in and between generations, passing on to those younger than ourselves, for good or not, whatever we have to offer.” (M. Labberton)
- A form of self-expression (e.g. art, music, writing). “I never would have guessed that, for the quiet girl whose torturous words spilled out like poetry, life is a spiral of family arguments and evictions–a daily battle against the scourge of hopelessness.” (Sandy Banks)
What are the descriptive qualities of a teen’s safety net people?
The Search Institute suggests these qualities:
- Not afraid to discuss spiritual questions, even if you don’t have all the answers.
- Listen to and respect what the teen has to say, even if you do not completely agree.
- Be a good role model of your own spiritual beliefs, practices, and commitments.
- Nurture the teen’s gifts and talents by allowing them to express their spirituality through journals, music, art, etc.
- Help connect the teen with spiritual leaders and mentors, other than yourself.
- Encourage teens to surround themselves with positive friends who strengthen their spiritual growth.
Note: Some ideas for this post were taken from one of a series of documents of the Department of Family, Youth & Community Sciences, UF/IFAS Extension, 05/2011.
Tweetable: Great ideas here for how to be a safety net under the tightrope of a teen’s spirituality. Click to Tweet