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
Unstructured summer days lie ahead. What activities can we use to enrich kids’ lives while having fun at the same time?
Strengthen a child’s empathy this summer and you may see these results in the upcoming school year*:
- more relaxed physically, with lower levels of stress hormones
- pay attention better and learn more effectively
- fewer behavior problems, such as aggressiveness
Children learn empathy very well by doing acts of service.
For example, you make a donation to a food pantry and you discuss with your children about how others are hungry. Sheila Sjolseth shares her experience.
The service acts where I see the most distinctive difference in my boys are when we interact with others in our community—those acts where they helped someone in a completely different situation than their own. By far, the acts of service that have been the most profound were when we helped:
- the elderly in nursing homes
- those who are experiencing homelessness
- those who have great medical need
- animals in shelters
Beyond taking in a neighbor’s trash cans or holding the door for someone–
–good as these are, empathy building means finding experiences where kids will see the needs of others and choose to meet them.
- Prepare and take healthy treats to the fire department or police station.
- Write a thank-you note or picture for the trash truck driver.
- Make a chemo care package for a family friend.
- Do an internet search for more ideas….
- Get ready. Brainstorm who we want to help. Talk about how the person’s life is different from the child’s. What can we expect?
- Keep it short. Think 10 minutes (not counting prep time).
- Show them how. Model the behavior you’d like to see them copy.
- Let them help. Even let them take the lead as they get ideas and want to initiate service.
- Reflect and debrief. Sheila asks her kids: “Was it what you expected? Why or why not? How did your service help the other person?” And I add, “How did you like doing it? What did the other person say or do to show how they felt?”
Try it once and see if it’s worth the effort.
*Harris, P.L. Children and Emotion: The Development of Psychological Understanding, 1989.
Tweetable: Do summer activities here to strengthen a child’s empathy and you might lower their stress hormones. 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