These timely observations were made by a man I interviewed about childhood spirituality. Notice that he gives credit to religious parents who step back from their own religious style and methods, but not from their beliefs and convictions. They allow children to express their growing spirituality in ways that are different from the parents.
Ethics and values and religious education can be imbued to a child.
But each child possesses a distinct style of negotiating his or her way through the world that has not been shaped by parenting or churching. And I think some of these innate personality traits may facilitate or fetter a person’s desire to seek a spiritual realm.
I guess what I mean is that some children are going to see the angels and some aren’t.
The ones that don’t can still experience the fullness of God’s love—but are less likely to experience grand epiphanies, raptures, startling leaps into the divine.
The voice of God is a brash symphony for some that sways their every step—for others it is a whisper, less of a force and more of a companion. I think each child will hear the voice differently and its timbre is unmodulated by parents or environments.
The voice of God is a brash symphony for some that sways their every step–for others it is a whisper, less of a force and more of a companion.
Tweetable: Each child will hear the voice of God differently, unmodulated by parents or environments. Click to Tweet
Can you think of a recent situation where you accepted, even supported, something you do not agree with? Some people won’t do it ever. Some do it quite readily, while others will do it while admitting it is not easy. Especially when it involves a heavy topic like politics or religion.
That’s why I applaud these nonreligious parents who support their children’s desire to develop their own spirituality.
Actor Michael Douglas was interviewed by People magazine:
I don’t know many parents of my age who’ve got kids this age… Dylan turned 13 last year and I could not ask for a more lovely son and daughter [Carys, 11]. They are perfect.
Dylan’s bar mitzvah was wonderful. I was so proud of our son. Neither one of his parents have any formal religious training, and this just really came out of his association with friends at school and then finding something that really made him feel spiritual. He liked that feeling.
A woman I interviewed said something similar:
My parents never took my family to church. They didn’t talk much about God or religion. I didn’t learn much about spirituality from them. When I was in high school and wanted to attend church, they supported me though.
Some caregivers, for reasons of their own, choose to stay out of spiritual conversations with their children. Yet they actively support the child’s own spiritual quest.
Can you think of a recent situation where you accepted, even supported, something you do not agree with? Click to Tweet
There are no definitive answers to difficult questions, but there are good ones. –Rabbi David Wolpe *
As a child’s brain continues to develop, cognitive powers of reasoning and critical thinking interact with their human spirit. Children now test assumptions and voice doubts. Their questions become more difficult to answer: What is religion? Why do some people pray?
If they ask these questions of us, we must address them. After all, who among us is satisfied to give children an intellectual, but not a moral or spiritual, education?
Design your own approach from these 5 principles:
Think before they ask
Make yourself aware of your own assumptions, just as you would when discussing anything else. For example, if they bring up purpose and meaning of life, what do you wish to convey to the child, that they are accidents or beings with purpose? That human beings are the supreme power or that there’s a higher power than humans? That a wrong act is okay if nobody ever knows about it?
Whatever your philosophy on matters like these, you owe children an honest and searching discussion– more likely to occur when you know your view of the universe.
Assume they know what they are looking for
Remember that an older child’s questions arise from already established beliefs collected in their earlier years. Studies continue to confirm that children by the age of 6 are guided by a conscience and have some developed concept of God. Ask them what they already think. They are looking to you to provide them with information that sheds more light on their core beliefs.
Help them know where to locate source material
Do an internet search for God and you will find 629,000,000 results. How does an adult even read all of it, much less evaluate it? This search proves to be a daunting task for children and adults alike.
Is it any surprise that almost all of us start looking for reliable sources of information within our own family traditions? What was your family’s source of information? Maybe you have not stopped to reflect on where your parents and caregivers acquired the knowledge they used to inform your early thought processes. How did they educate themselves in spiritual matters? What can you take from their model to use with the children in your life?
Introduce them to sacred writings
In addition to learning from the living community around them, children can study spiritual wisdom from the writings of the past. These texts can take children outside of themselves, their family system and their community of friends. They encounter words of God, acts of God, eternal questions, and laws or principles of life existing wholly apart from them. They face an objective standard in the sense that the texts exist on their own merit and they must evaluate that merit.
Find trustworthy people outside your family
The older children get, the more important influences from outside the family circle will become. Sometimes it’s just easier to talk to someone other than mom or dad. And sometimes mom or dad are quite glad to get some outside help with spiritual education. That’s when many begin to look for some kind of faith community.
Allow yourself to be open to the direction that spiritual exploration can take you. Once again, as so often, through teaching our children, we learn.
*Thanks to Rabbi Wolpe for sharpening my thinking on a couple of these principles.
5 principles help parents design a response to an older child’s doubts and questions. Click to Tweet
Sooner or later, every child sees trouble coming into life. Things go wrong. When their questions come up, this perspective– written in a child’s vocabulary– may help you talk about it.
Even as a young child you feel anger, disappointment, grief, pain, loss. You might not like the design of your body, the parents you got or didn’t get. You are surprised when you first learn that adults aren’t always fair or kind. You are sad when the people who are supposed to keep you safe don’t do their job. You feel helpless when bad things happen or no one listens to you.
God understands everything you feel inside.
He is always with you. He brings you comfort by being right there with you and never leaving you alone.
So why doesn’t God make it go away?
He is powerful and he could make people do what’s right. He could make people stop. He could see to it that everyone has enough food and a home to live in.
Yes, he could, if he wanted to control people’s lives. He would have to eliminate choice so that no one ever chose to do wrong or make trouble again.
What kind of world would this be if God forced people to do right?
Or insisted that they feel happy all the time? Wouldn’t God become the dictator of the whole world? What kind of person would you be? Your freedom would be gone. You could not make choices.
Trouble is here to stay, and with it, people’s right to think their own kind or cruel thoughts, feel their own hate or love, do good or bad. Remember that in your troubles you have God who shares them with you. You can put complete trust in God’s intention to bless you, not harm you.
Try a different perspective when kids ask why God doesn’t stop trouble. Click to Tweet
“When you search for beauty, it is always found. When you search for meanness, it is always found. The choice is yours.” (Dr. Becky Bailey)
And choices repeated–I would add–become habits.
This school year, look for the best in teachers and administrators.
Granted, I was a teacher, so I am a bit biased. But it helps children immensely when the important adults in their life are aligned with each other. It is easy to see the best in teachers when they are wonderful, doing above or beyond. It is much harder to hold this perception when things are difficult.
We know it is impossible to assess the intentions of teachers accurately.
Yet we often focus our attention on what is wrong or lacking in the classroom. Our brains have been trained to attribute negative intentions to others and ourselves.
Reframe your thinking about the school situation.
Try shifting your beliefs about the teacher’s motives from negative to positive. Regardless of whether what the teacher is doing is working well or not, try to assume they are well-intentioned.
These statements, made by teachers I know personally, represent the majority attitude among school personnel.
A Special Education teacher says: Personally my “job within the job” is to make sure my students know how valuable they are. People are always being evaluated and judged. Kids know that people value those who are the best. Studies show that the better readers are also more popular.
I want my Special Ed students to know that the value of a human being is much more than what you can do. I tell them, “You are beautiful and valued and loved and you matter to me.”
A kindergarten teacher shows us her motives: “As a teacher, I am given a tremendous responsibility to mold the minds of my students through the curriculum. When I spend time affirming and nourishing the children’s spirit in class, I see confident children!”
When you learn to attribute positive motives to teachers, you possess a powerful skill.
A skill that transforms opposition into cooperation.
- You join with the teacher as an ally in your child’s education.
- You foster a sense of security in your child when you see the best in his teacher. Children who feel secure are more likely to share feelings with you about their problems.
- You model for your child that people can think and act differently than you, and you accept them for who they are.
Note: I am indebted to Dr. Becky Bailey’s Conscious Discipline for her quote and her principle of Positive Intent adapted for this post.
- When you search for beauty, it is always found. When you search for meanness, it is always found. The choice is yours. (Becky Bailey) Click to Tweet
- How do you foster a sense of security in your child when you see the best in his teacher? Click to Tweet