Easter: a time for rethinking childhood beliefs

97956_5578 Easter1All of us reached adolescence with childhood beliefs, values and morals that needed evaluation.

Beliefs enter a child’s mind and get established in the mental operating system* without a healthy evaluation of the basis for the belief. In a child’s brain, the ability to reason is not yet fully developed.

When children reach adolescence with little attention given to their childhood beliefs….

  • We may hear something like this boy’s explanation: “Faith is believing what you know isn’t so.”
  • They are less likely to come to parents, now preferring peers and those outside of the family.

Take Easter–the resurrection of Jesus Christ–for instance.

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Christianity maintains that Jesus died on a cross and three days later, came back to life and was seen by multiple eyewitnesses.

I suspect that for many of the 2 billion people who identify as Christians, this doctrine remains a hard-to-understand mystery. Some older children may leave Sunday’s Easter Service concluding that the resurrection is incomprehensible and therefore nonsense.

Preteens beginning to evaluate their beliefs usually want our assistance:

  1. Begin by listening intently to the child’s belief. Clarify until you can precisely express the child’s belief back to him (and the child says “yes, that’s it”).
  2. Use the same active listening to unpack the child’s conflict, doubt, question about their belief–so that you can state it precisely and the child says, “yes, that’s it.”
  3. Brainstorm options for checking the accuracy of the belief–resurrection–in our example (weigh evidence from science, history):
    1. Talk to trustworthy people who see the issues from different perspectives.
    2. Search the Internet: evidence for resurrection
    3. Find a workshop, seminar, documentary, book
  4. Ask, “Which option is best for you?”

By allowing the child to own their choice you teach them how to approach doubts and questions when you aren’t around.

*to borrow a phrase from psychiatrist Timothy Jennings.




One thing that will ruin your child’s life

If there is one thing that will ruin children’s lives, it’s greed. Teach them how to pull the plug on greed and you will have prepared them to thrive in the real world. –Mary Hunt

Mary Hunt, the “Everyday Cheapskate” offers timely advice, condensed here, on one aspect of character development.

Greed is the feeling of desire, of wanting everything you can think of.

Greed is like a very bad disease. It starts small and if allowed to grow it will take over your life. Greed will make you miserable. It causes temper tantrums and makes people self-centered and arrogant. It is very sneaky.

Children know that twinge of envy when their best friend shows a new phone. Or says really loud at lunch that Dad is buying a new car for their graduation gift. Multiply that feeling by 10 and you’ll have a good idea of what full-blown greed feels like. It is not good.

Greed is hazardous to their futures.

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The problem with greed is that it drives us to do things that are hazardous to our futures. Greed says it is OK to have everything we want now and to figure out how to pay for it later. Greed is something every child has to deal with and the sooner you can show a child how to defeat that enemy the better off and happier the child will be.

The antidote for greed is to be thankful for what you already have.

You prove your gratitude when you are willing to give away part of your resources. Everyone, no matter how young or how poor, has time, talent and possessions.

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When children give to others it helps them to be grateful for what they have.

  • Help a younger child to read.
  • Visit senior citizens at a care facility.
  • Clean up and bring toys you don’t play with to a shelter or hospital.
  • Regularly give part of your allowance to a charitable or religious organization.

If you want to make sure your children are never defeated by greed, show them how to be givers.

Tweetable: Greed is like a very bad disease.If allowed to grow it will take. Here’s an antidote for your kids. Click to Tweet

Uncomfortable about childhood spirituality? Two practical ideas…

Children want and need adults to take the lead in developing their their conscience, character, morals, values. But many of us are uncomfortable talking about it. Some believe that we need never bring up spiritual matters at all, others feel that we must instill our own beliefs into children. What if the uncomfortable feelings about spiritual conversations are coming from the adults, not from the children? What if we work on the assumption that spiritual awareness already exists in the heart of every child?

How would that lower our personal discomfort? What small changes could we make to increase our confidence in dealing with our child’s spiritual curiosity?

1. Establish a family ritual or routine.

Some parents put it into the bedtime routine for consistency’s sake: bath time, reading a book, saying a prayer or answering a question. It becomes a normal part of everyday life, eliminating the awkwardness



A friend of mine asks four daily questions of her 12-year-old twin grandsons whom she is raising:

  • Best thing that happened to you today
  • Worst thing
  • Thing you need God’s help with tomorrow
  • Thing you are most grateful for today. “I like ending with the gratitude reminder,” she explains.

2. Use normal life experiences to weave values into everyday conversations.

Make an observation or ask a question when you see the opportunity. This tells children that it’s okay for them to ask questions or talk about qualities of spirit. One adoptive mother compares talking about spirituality to talking about adoption:

In all of the adoption literature, parents are told again and again to initiate talking about adoption with their children. When the parents never mention it, they are communicating to their child a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy: Let’s act like adoption isn’t part of the equation to help the child feel more “normal.”

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Yet the reality is that the child needs to engage with and process that part of their history. Counter-intuitively, talking about it is what actually normalizes it. Many adoptive children who are now adults say that they were afraid to ask their adoptive parents questions for fear of hurting their feelings or upsetting them. They assumed that silence on the subject of their adoption was caused by the parents’ discomfort with the subject.

In the same way, we normalize spiritual awareness by  noticing it in everyday life. Nine times out of ten, children let it pass without comment. But once in a while they use the opportunity to ask a question or launch a discussion.


  • Changes in your lifestyle that show respect for your child’s spiritual curiosity. Click to Tweet
  • Two ideas that can lower our discomfort with our child’s spiritual development. Click to Tweet


Older children ask, “What do people mean by spiritual but not religious?”

Boston University professor Dr. Nancy Ammerman organizes spiritual and religious experiences into four packages. I share her research as one way to help children understand and define these terms.

1) Godless (nontheistic) spirituality

Spirituality is not framed in terms of God but rather as a kind of transcendence that is “bigger than me” and beyond the ordinary. A secularist from Atlanta said:

Experiencing things that are calming and healing in what might almost be a spiritual way–I’ve had that from lots of things: music, movies that I love, and books.

2) God-centered spirituality

Spirituality is about God, especially one’s relationship with God, and any mysterious encounters or happenings that result from it.

I love to be out on a boat on the ocean for the same reason I like to be in my garden, ’cause I feel close to the Lord and the beauty of the world.

3) Ethical spirituality

Spirituality is living a virtuous life by helping others and transcending one’s own selfish interests to seek what is right. This is a definition of spirituality that all survey respondents, from the most conservative Christian to the secular neo-pagan, agreed was the essence of authentic spirituality.

4) Belief and belonging

This spirituality package is defined differently by those who are active in a religion and those who are not. Ammerman wrote,

Believing, for instance, could either be a way of talking about devout spirituality or a way of describing superstition. Belonging can represent a positive identity or a symbol of being trapped in an authoritarian tradition. Tension between the two definitions sheds some light on why people would describe themselves as spiritual but not religious.

Conclusions of interest to children:

  • Spiritual and Religious are rarely at odds but intersect often in the daily lives of people as they describe their spirituality.
  • When conflicts/tensions arise it is almost always when individuals/groups use religion to draw political and moral boundaries.
  • Research shows more common than uncommon spiritual practices and beliefs between those who say they are religious and those who don’t.

Link to complete article by journalist Matthew Brown.


Get help here when your older kids ask the difference between religious and spiritual. Click to tweet




Children develop awareness of spiritual life through music

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Through music, we teach children how to recognize and process certain spiritual experiences and messages coming to them. Music opens a child’s spirit like nothing else does. They can sing out their joyful feelings. They can use an instrument to celebrate life or to play out their sorrow in a minor key. Budding musicians make music with all their soul. And some kids use music as a way to express their feelings toward God.

How does music influence your child’s spiritual and emotional well-being?

Notice in the following example how music met this child’s deep need:

My first music performance was at the orphanage with an audience of other children at House-Grandmother’s. They encouraged my love for singing and performance when no one else did.

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Music kept up the spirit of this woman I interviewed about her childhood spirituality. Through years of foster care and orphanage life, music “supported me as a child. I also came to my first awareness of God as someone who loved me unconditionally.”

Do you notice how emotion and spirit connected in her inner life? The same may be true of your child in certain situations.

138364_3996 crying toddlerMusic can help a child calm herself.

After children have an angry outburst or an upset, they have their own ways of expressing their wish for peace and calm to return. Can you think of times when music played a part in reducing your child’s stress?

Music helps children rise above their circumstances.

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Newspaper reporter Steve Lopez was at the County Jail with members of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. He spoke to an inmate who links her spiritual well-being and music:

Music digs deep into my soul. Melody calls me, it’s soothing, and it lets me know I’m safe emotionally and spiritually, and I can go where I want to go.

Through music we help our children recognize and process spiritual experiences and messages coming to them.

Tweetable: Through music, children and teens absorb perspectives about the nature of life, humanity, redemption and love. Click to Tweet