One consistently underrated motivator for kids is the moral or spiritual motivation. We’re trained to think kids won’t care about doing the right or courageous thing for its own sake. But what is almost every classic kids’ movie or book about? The classic clash between good and evil and being on the right side of the battle, even when it’s hard. There’s something intrinsically motivating about being good, brave or honorable.
Motivator: The self-sacrifices of 9/11
First responders, a group of airline passengers, and many more on 9/11 touched our global society through their internal motivations, their moral convictions driving their actions. The powerful drive to do the good and right thing was laid brick by brick in childhood. In a crisis moment the curtain was pulled back on their heart, soul, conscience (call it what you will) propelling them to a level of moral greatness the world recognized.
Motivator: A Little League coach adds another brick
Over this past season, I watched a Little League coach lead his team of 9-year-olds in giving affirmations to teammates in a post-game ritual. There goes another brick into the boys’ ethical foundation: the importance of seeing the good in others. By blending a kind of balance between their physical and moral growth, this coach makes a deposit that will bring a return for the rest of their lives.
Dimensions of the spiritual foundation
Authors Charles R. Ridley and Robert E.Logan identify dimensions that can become cornerstones in people’s spiritual foundations. Over the next several articles here we will offer conversation starters and activities that can be done on the run if you’d like to motivate kids to add some more bricks to the foundation of their internal moral motivation.
- Community transformation
- Authentic relationships
- Personal character development
- Generous living
- Sacrificial service
- Spiritual responsiveness
- Experiencing God
- How am I feeling challenged as I try to instill moral values in children?
- Which of my efforts has been working well and I want to continue?
- What isn’t working in my interactions with them about their motives?
- What do I have to offer by way of personal examples of my intrinsic motivations?
- Who else in our family’s circle of relationships demonstrates intrinsic motivations I respect? What am I doing to get the kids together with them?
Tweetable: Strive to balance physical, intellectual and spiritual development of children. Go here for ideas to solidify moral (spiritual) development. Click to Tweet
These ideas for discussing the possibilities of such a relationship are written at a child’s vocabulary level. Adapt it as needed for a child’s unique situation.
Your connection with God starts with God.
From the beginning of your life, God provides a family for you, intending that you will learn what love, nurture and care are. As an infant you responded to God when you experienced delight in looking at your parents’ faces, feeling warm bath water on your skin or being cuddled.
God’s bond with you is ready for you to join in whenever you want to.
God has been preparing it all along. Your human spirit–inside of you–is where this relationship develops. Since God is spirit, God provided you with your human spirit so you would have the inner space to hold a relationship with God.
You have been responding to God, even when you did not recognize it.
When you see the night sky with countless stars and feel amazement at how big and wide it is, you are responding to God’s glory.
When you see someone’s talent expressed you are responding to God’s handiwork. When you feel love and kindness being shown to you, you are sensing God’s presence.
If you take time right now to think about it, you would remember many times you connected with God. Something special was going on but you did not recognize that it was because of God.
Connect more directly with God the same ways you connect with people.
Starting in early childhood and continuing through your whole life, you have plenty of things to go to God about. You have lots to talk about and question. These questions, conversations and encounters, along with the feelings they produce, form the foundation of a real relationship.
Think about the relationships in your life.
You go places together, hang out, laugh, play, work, eat, talk, argue. With God, you do many of the same things. God has feelings. God is delighted when you are having fun. God feels anger when people hurt each other and feels happy when you are generous. God feels disappointed when someone breaks a promise. God understands everything you feel inside. When you are upset, maybe crying, you can be sure that God is aware of every tear. When you are celebrating a special occasion, God’s heart is full of joy. God knows and loves everything about you.
Note: These traits of God are taken from the Bible’s stories.
Tweetable: What do you say when kids ask, “Can people actually make a connection with God?” Some good ideas here. Click to Tweet
In an old issue of Psychology Today, I ran across an article featuring the words of Dennis Rosen, M.D.
Sometimes children seem so self absorbed and so preoccupied with gadgets and toys, we wonder whether they are aware of, or care about, what goes on around them. We like to tell ourselves, “Something” must be wrong with this generation.
Except there isn’t. The problem lies with us, the adults, who could be challenging them to think about others, and leading them to action.
Prior to going to Haiti to volunteer at a hospital, Dr. Rosen spoke to his daughter’s second grade class about the conditions there, showing them pictures of what life is like for children just like them. Following his visit, the class collected over 7,000 vitamins for him to give out.
“The empathy and genuine interest of these seven year olds was so impressive, and yet, upon reflection, not really that surprising. To help others in need is a very basic human instinct (though one that is not always acted upon).”
5 fun activities teach kids to think of others.
Author Cat Skorupski’s ideas I’m going to use with the kids in my life this summer:
- Surprise parents by making a favorite food for each of them and present it at the next meal.
- Do a chore without being asked. This seems like a no-brainer, but it’s one that will resonate big-time with parents. The more annoying the chore, the better. Make a movie of each child doing it and show their parents.
- Raise money for a cause dear to someone’s heart. Showing that you care about something he or she cares about—enough to invest your time and energy—is a huge compliment.
- Take a song you already know and write new words to it, making it about someone special to you! It doesn’t have to be complicated—heck, it doesn’t even have to be on-key. It’s the thought that counts! Then record it onto a phone or computer and send it to them.
- Create a scavenger hunt. Hide affirmation notes around the house for a sibling or other relative to find. The notes could be hidden in sequence with clues that lead the hunter to the next treasure or they could just be hidden randomly.
Tweetable: Show kids how you care about others, then guide them do this directly on their own with 5 new ideas. Click to Tweet
After five years of interviewing adults about their childhood spiritual experiences, I’ve seen common threads. Here’s one: As children, they didn’t have the vocabulary to express how they were processing spirituality and God. Can’t you see it in what this man told me?
“I remember I was four or five years old and feeding white ducks bread crumbs from the top of a playground slide. It seemed very wonderful to me for some reason and I dreamed about it and I can still see myself doing it. My thoughts couldn’t have been very abstract or sophisticated or articulated in any vocabulary I had at the time, but I felt I was in the presence of something greater than myself, in a world beyond the surface world where I was tossing down food onto the white ducks and feeling very whole, free, peaceful.”
That it, isn’t it? Children can’t articulate with the vocabulary they have at the time.
But we can help children build a spiritual vocabulary. We use the same methods we did when we taught them basic vocabulary words.
When they learned animal names, we had picture books of animals, “Where’s the bird? What does the bird say?” And when we went outdoors, “See the bird? Hear the bird?”
Use children’s literature to teach spiritual vocabulary.
It’s packed with stories about the human spirit developing and prevailing. When you read to children, emphasize and repeat age-appropriate spiritual vocabulary words such as right, wrong, conscience, character, wise, forgive, as these concepts come up in the book. Use these vocabulary words in normal everyday conversations. As children get older, you can move on to words like mindful, ethics, purpose, presence, worship, spirit, soul, self and reason.
There’s no need to bottle it up inside.
When they know words like these, they’ll be equipped with a vocabulary to express themselves as they begin to work out the complexities of life. With no need to bottle it up inside, they will talk freely and listen to others, thus understanding how normal and widespread is the spiritual dimension of life.
- Ideas to help children build a spiritual vocabulary by the same method you taught them basic vocabulary. Click to Tweet
- Children don’t know the words to use to express their spiritual experiences. See some ideas here. Click to Tweet
Jayaram 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.
1st 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
To 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.
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