“Morality is not just something that people learn, it is something we are all born with,” wrote Gareth Cook in his recent interview with Yale psychologist Paul Bloom in an issue of Scientific American (Nov 12, 2013) (italics mine).
The interview with Bloom continues: “At birth, babies are endowed with compassion, with empathy, with the beginning of a sense of fairness. . . . The sort of research that I’ve been involved with personally, looking at the origins of moral judgment, is difficult to do with very young babies. But we have found that even 3-month-olds respond differently to a character who helps another than to a character who hinders another person.”
This kind of research is beginning to support the notion of child-centered spirituality– that the way to encourage children’s spirituality is found in opening yourself up to their world, in asking them questions and answering theirs, in listening. It’s about honoring the spirituality that God has already placed within them.
Too often adults believe either that we need never bring up spiritual matters at all or that we must instill our own beliefs about God into children. How do you suppose these options become so common?
What do you think about telling children that there is a Santa Claus (or Father Christmas or St. Nicholas), alive today, who brings them presents? What did you do or say to them when they found out he’s imaginary?
Through the lens of the human spirit, we see a child’s nature to believe what we tell them. Trust is built or trust is broken. I wonder what would happen if we talked about Santa Claus and simply added, “Let’s pretend.” Let’s pretend that he comes on a white horse or in a sleigh with reindeer. Let’s pretend he brings presents for all good little boys and girls. Children have as much–or more–fun in pretending as they have in real life.
“Let’s play Love Park!” That was the greeting I got from a six-year-old yesterday as I walked through the front door to have coffee with his mother. The previous time I visited my friend, she had to make an important phone call, so I had sat on the floor with the two kids to play a while.
They have a big basket of plush toys and I said “Why don’t we take our animals to the park? The park can be this chair.” “Let’s call it Love Park,” said the older boy.
Immediately the animals were in midair chasing each other, swinging on imaginary swings. It was such a rip-roaring good time that the boys wanted to do it again yesterday.
Maybe St. Nick could be that way if we’re real about entering the enchanting imaginary world of a child.
One day last July I walked into the transitional living home where I was co-facilitating a support group. To my delight, the baby we had all been waiting on, had arrived. I got to hold him, light as a feather. I couldn’t keep my eyes off of him and I whispered, “You are so precious.”
There’s something unmistakably spiritual about looking into the face of a newborn baby. The experience raises unfathomable questions that we’ll never fully know the answers to– questions of God, eternity and our place in the universe.
Doctors and researchers have examined how babies develop physically, marking milestones such as lifting their own heads, learning to crawl, learning to walk. Linguists and education experts have studied their intellectual development: object permanence, language processing, how they recognize different people. Parenting and behavioral specialists have researched how young children attach to caregivers, recognize social cues, and learn self-soothing skills. As a result, we’ve learned a lot about how babies and young children develop physically, emotionally, and intellectually.
Yet ultimately, caregivers know ways in which infancy and childhood can be seen through a spiritual lens but we don’t talk with each other about them. Why do you suppose that is?
My hope is that this blog will provide a unique window how a child’s spiritual needs are met and become a place to talk openly about it.
This is an odd topic for a blog. I’ve never seen one quite like it before. Why would I even choose to write about something as off-the-beaten-path as spirituality in children?
I just know how emotional I get when I hear stories about the triumph of the human spirit: a person saving someone’s life, an artist’s creation, kindness and goodness shown. I’m not the only one out there who is moved by that stuff. The seeds of these triumphs were planted long before they actually happened. We see them in children all the time, even in a newborn’s face.
From childhood I was aware there was a God. My mother swears this is true: She watched me out the front window of our duplex when as a four-year-old I suddenly stopped riding my bicycle and sat quietly on the bike seat with my hands folded. Later when she asked me what I was doing I told her I was talking to God.
As an adult, I have heard much discussion among parents about the ways their infants and young children are developing. What I’ve not heard much at all is conversation about the spiritual development of children. How does the human spirit develop and how can we see children through the lens of spirituality? Likely this area hasn’t been talked about as much because spirituality is such a difficult thing to “discuss.” It’s hard to pin down. It’s hard for people to agree on. It’s hard to articulate. And yet we usually know it when we see it.
What I hope to explore in this blog is how caregivers can play an important role in meeting the needs of a child’s human spirit. Given the well-known facts of human biology and psychology, parents meet the needs of their infant for nourishment, nurture, attachment, trust and security. Where I hope to focus is on how caregivers can also play an important role in meeting the needs of the child’s human spirit.
For example, just yesterday a friend told me her four-year-old son asked her—with open curiosity—“What does God do all day?” My friend really had to think about how to answer that. Even though she has her own beliefs about God, she’d never thought about that question.
If a four-year-old asked you that question, how would you answer it? What kind of internal response would you have?