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
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
One dad has been laying a spiritual foundation for his children based upon the truth about their higher power, as they understand it–God knows you, loves you and cares about you.
This dad shares his approach to helping his children know that they are known by God and loved by God. Notice how precisely his actions display the character of their higher power, combining emotional intelligence and spiritual intelligence.
I make time when my kids want to discuss or emote on any part of their life.
I am creating space to be with them in what they are feeling and thinking. They can express what they’re experiencing and I don’t correct them. Sometimes I have to let go of what I think their outcome should be. Yet I am there to help them navigate out.
However, I also come to them when I am frustrated.
I’ve said out loud that it is hard for me not to get angry or that I’m probably not thinking clearly right now. Without burdening them with inappropriate adult details, I want to show them my emotional state, and how they can recognize their emotional state in what I am saying about mine.
In our interactions, I hope that my children are experiencing what they believe is true about their higher power:
There is a safety in coming to me with anything they feel or think. They won’t be corrected in how they feel. Because I make time and space to listen, I know my children, and I accept the fact that we have our differences, all the time loving and providing for them.
I am proud of their freedom to disagree intensely with people, be in direct conflict with people, but not feel personal offense and intense relational separation from them. They have the comfort of knowing that they are loved by God and us and they can love and respect those with whom they disagree.
How willing are you to share your internal world–including your upsets–with the children in your life?
Tweetable: Can adults display the character or nature of a child’s higher power? This dad gives it a try. Click to Tweet
Educator Janet Gonzalez-Mena uses the following analogy to describe the connection between security and boundaries: Imagine driving over a bridge in the dark. If the bridge has no railings we will drive across it slowly and tentatively. But if we see railings on either side of us, we can drive over the bridge with easy confidence. This is how a child feels in regard to limits in his environment.
The repeated experience of exploring in safe surroundings teaches young children that they are not likely to get hurt, that they can trust their caregivers to keep them safe, and that new experiences are enjoyable.
Spiritual exploration is similar.
Yes, it’s hard, but this is what we do: We allow children room to explore while also providing enough boundaries to keep them safe. We dialogue with them and allow them to ask questions… no matter what kinds of questions those might be.
Attending to things of eternal significance is a wide-open field of exploration for children– one in which they want their caregivers to allow them room to explore while also providing enough boundaries to keep them safe. Their curiosity and desire to explore is revealed by their questions: What happens when people die? Why do bad things happen?
Yet those same questions also reveal a desire for adult engagement in that exploration. That adult engagement provides the safety rails.
- Attending to things of eternal significance is a wide-open field of exploration for children. – Click to Tweet
- Children desire adult engagement in their spiritual exploration because you provide the safety rails. – Click to Tweet