From our earliest years and throughout our lives, hunger of body and hunger of spirit are mingled together.
We know a lot about satisfying physical hunger in children with food, but less about satisfying their spiritual hunger. In the first year of life food goes toward the body’s growth. When the child starts to walk and talk it goes into fuel for physical activity. Throughout life food continues to be essential and without it, life is not sustained.
Yet what do we know about feeding the human spirit?
Around the time that babies begin to walk and talk, their human spirit has been developing to where they now seek satisfaction through curiosity about the world. In another year or so they show an ability to believe in things they can’t see, and the tendency to live entirely in the moment. We feed their spirit when we promote growth in any of these tendencies.
Kids are innate spiritual beings.
“Young kids have an incredible sense of wonder — they’re innate spiritual beings,” says Marianne Neifert, a pediatrician, mother of five, and author.
Feed their spirit with nature.
A caregiver can feed that spiritual sense of wonder by the abundant resources provided in nature. Haven’t we all seen inexplicable joy when a toddler encounters water? I watched my two-year-old grandniece fill her pink plastic pail with water in the ocean, run quite a distance to where her big brother was building a sand castle, dump it out as per his instructions, return to water’s edge to wait for the incoming wave and repeat the ritual for almost an hour.
The beauty, power and order of nature are at the same time a feast for the child’s senses and a spiritual experience.
[Due to the holiday today in the US, I’ve re-posted a popular previous entry.]
From our earliest years and throughout our lives, hunger of body and hunger of spirit are mingled together. Click to Tweet
The beauty, power and order of nature are at the same time a feast for the child’s senses and a spiritual experience. Click to Tweet
I appreciate the man in Zeitlarn, Germany who wrote me earlier this month to tell me about a book summarizing the findings of an increasing number of studies in child psychology that support child-centered spirituality. One description in the book states:
“Scientific experiments conducted with children across the globe illustrate the ways human beings develop complex beliefs about God’s omniscience, the afterlife, and the immortality of deities. How the developing brain grapples with these and other questions leads children, across cultures, to naturally develop a belief in a divine power of remarkably consistent traits.”
Dr. Justin Barrett, in his book Born Believers: The Science of Children’s Religious Beliefs, offers a compelling argument for the human instinct for religion. His research (and that of other scientists), supported by The John Templeton Foundation, shows how the science of childhood religiosity reveals across humanity a “natural religion,” the organization of the beliefs that humans gravitate to organically, and how it underlies all of the world’s major religions, uniting them under one common source.
Since my blog is in no way a scientific study, all the more reason to pass along scientific research to readers who may be interested. This blog is closer to a meditation on the ways in which infancy and childhood can be seen through a spiritual lens so that adults continue to address all the needs–physical, mental, emotional and spiritual–of the children they love.
Scientific research continues to validate child-centered spirituality – Click to Tweet
The science of childhood religiosity reveals, across humanity, a “natural religion.” – Click to Tweet
“Trust begins from day one. It develops when a baby’s physical needs are met, so if you are there to feed her, change her and respond to her [cuddle and hold], you’ll begin laying the foundation for a close relationship in later years.” — Catherine Hutter, PhD, clinical child psychologist at St. Louis Children’s Hospital
Infants develop basic trust in others when they are helplessly dependent and their needs are met. Conversely, neglect of needs or erratic meeting of needs makes it difficult for infants to learn to trust. Trust is the basis of all future successful relationships.
What we do in the early years matters
As infants grow and learn to talk, listening to them builds trust. We have all struggled listening to the repetitive and often illogical conversation of toddlers. But as Dr. Laura Markham observes, “The ins and outs of the preschool playground may not rivet you, but communication habits start early. It’s hard to pay attention when you’re rushing to pick up food for dinner and get home, but if you aren’t really listening… he learns that there’s not much point in talking.”
When we listen closely, we get much more than we give. On a good day….amusement, joy, wonder, laughter, love…. and isn’t it the good days we store in our memory?
Every child wants to be noticed: “Look at me!” “Watch me!” “See how I can do this!” Having an adult take notice and interact provides formative feedback for children.
What do adults notice? What do they not notice? How do they respond? This is all data that children take into account as they decide how to behave in the future. “What gets me noticed? And why?”
By practicing the skills of noticing and commenting, you strengthen children’s moral and spiritual development. Catch them in the act of sharing, cooperating, being kind, or looking out for the welfare of others. When that happens, notice it and comment on it. One of my mentors, Dr. Becky Bailey, states, “Proactively notice all helpful, kind acts children perform. Notice these acts privately to the child and publicly” to their friends and family.
The 8-minute video below shows how these two skills are performed in a classroom context. During the first half, Dr. Bailey introduces the skill of noticing in the context of classroom discipline. In the last 4 minutes, she demonstrates the skill of commenting.
Today, try noticing ten helpful acts a child performs. Small ones are fine. The following are suggested steps for commenting on what you notice:
Step 1: Start the statement with the word “you.”
Step 2: Describe in detail what the child did.
Step 3: Relate how the child’s behavior helped someone else or the entire family.
Step 4: End by saying, “That was helpful!” “That was kind,” or “That was caring.”
Catch kids in the act of sharing or looking out for the welfare of others and comment publicly. Click to Tweet
The challenge of affirming kids is to describe what you see rather than judging the behavior as “good job” or “being good.” Click to Tweet