For young children, Christmas and Halloween are very much alike: one is a time to get presents and the other is a time to get candy. Older children are more likely to hear friends speak of Christmas as Jesus’ birthday, which may give rise to questions about why Jesus is so important that his birthday is a holiday.
I asked some adults this question and here’s what they say:
Jesus was a good teacher. We can read the book of Luke in the Bible to learn more about what he taught.
Jesus was born, not just as an ordinary baby, but sent by God to show us how to get closer to God and understand better what God is like.
Jesus was God’s gift to us, so we celebrate his birthday by giving gifts to each other.
It is not only Jesus’ teachings which make him so remarkable
…although these would be enough to give him a holiday of his own. It is a combination of the teachings with the man himself.
Here’s what Jesus himself said about why he came into the world
My purpose is to give you a full and satisfying life.
I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.
The one who sent me is with me–I always do what pleases him.
Ask children why Jesus’ birthday gets him his own holiday
Ask them what they think about Jesus and Christmas. Their answers in this 2 minute video may surprise you, bring you the biggest smile (laugh) of your day, and inspire you to ask them some questions.
Tweetable: Children try to answer simple questions about Christmas in a 2 minute video here. Click to Tweet
A teenage girl was recently asked to babysit for a family. Her response? “Sure. Those were the only kids at the party who said ‘thank you’ when I handed out treats. They’re really polite.” (And this from a 15-year-old who was too shy to say thank you when she was 5 and really had to work at it!)
The simple act of saying “Thank you” can dramatically impact people’s impression of you.It’s an important skill to teach the children in our lives.
Even if children feel gratitude, they don’t automatically know to say thank you.
They need to be taught… and they need to see the same thing modeled by the important adults in their lives.
In four minutes or less, you can increase a child’s social skills level.After all, to move grateful feelings into creative expression is a skill… and skills take practice. December is an ideal time to practice, with its added occasions to acknowledge hospitality and gifts.
In 4 minutes or less:
Say thank you in person when you see them the next time. (Program a Reminder for yourself when you know that children are going to see the giver so that you can coach them on what to say.)
Take a picture of the child using or wearing the gift and send to the giver’s smartphone with a few words of thanks attached.
Template – Provide samples for a written Thank You but be wary of imposing your standards.
Post card – Very fast when combined with a template
Video clip and send to the giver’s smartphone
Acrostic of Thanks or Thank You
Craft supplies – One dad said, “My favorite was one for my son’s friends who gave him art supplies, which he used to draw a panda on the thank you card, accompanied by ‘p.s. I drew a panda.’ ”
Written note with template provided – and if you address the envelope, this drops to 4 minutes or less.
Round robin – One card or paper on which the whole family adds their notes
Food – especially for hospitality (granola, gourmet spices)
Paper chain – each family member writes on a link
Know your individual family members or friends:
One mom says, “It’s funny how in some families it’s no big deal but for others not sending a thank you note is the equivalent of saying, ‘We didn’t give a damn about your gift!'”
“What are you doing? You sent me a thank you card? We are sisters!” she said in an outraged tone. “Save that for the cousins. If you start sending them to me, I have to send them to you and it all gets out of control.”
Expressing thanks is both a social skill and a spiritual experience.
Our human spirit responds to the benefits, favors, generosity and kindness of others, including God. Even toddlers.
Tweetable: Help your child make a good impression by insisting they learn various ways to say Thank You. Click to tweet
A milestone occurs when children enter school and their relationship pool increases and deepens. They look for ways to connect with others and with God in new ways.
In grade school, you are still the one they most want to hear from about spirituality and the one they most watch to learn what it looks like to live with spirituality as part of daily life.
But now they act in a way that reveals their need to widen the circle to include their friends’ families and a faith community.
For some parents this seems like the right time to affiliate with a religion or faith community.
Community involvement has to do with how a child practices their spirituality, as expressed through various beliefs, practices and rituals. It is an attractive option for millions of families for addressing the longing in children’s hearts for spiritual understanding.
A faith community links up with a child’s needs for attachment and for trust.
It moves them forward to explore the other relational issue of importance to them: how a connection forms between God and a person. One woman remembers when she began to look for this connection:
Just because I was raised in a home in which God was never talked about, doesn’t mean that I never thought about God.
It is true that this influenced me to think that God was not a relevant part of how I go about living my life. And true that being raised in a home where relationship was deeply stunted influenced me to feel that God is distant, even non-existent.
However, these ideas about God being not relevant, non-existent or distant did not form a foundational belief in my core, even though my upbringing should have prescribed it.
There was nothing in my childhood experience to form in me a belief that God is relevant, real or near, but deep down inside these are precisely the attitudes that were rooted in my core, and even helped me to dig out of the relational laziness or isolation that I could have resigned myself to.
A faith Community is an attractive option for millions of families for addressing the longing in children’s hearts for spiritual understanding.
Tweetable: When is a good time to get my family involved in a faith community? Look here for a few thoughts about it.Click to Tweet
How do we do that in a way that informs, yet leaves the door open to explore and journey and be curious as they grow up? What words can we use to introduce God in such a way as to do the child no harm?
Here is a description of God that may prove useful, written in a child’s vocabulary.
This view is acknowledged in every area of the world from sub-Saharan Africa and tribes in the South Pacific to urban centers in Europe, farms in the Americas, and Middle Eastern deserts.
It is not the view of a particular religion, yet is found in the majority of world religions. It is mainstream.
Who is God?
God is a being. God does not have a body. God is invisible. People are beings too—human beings. God is a being who is greater than human beings. You can’t see God but you know He* is there. God has always been there.
God is love. All love comes from God.
God knows everything. He knows what will happen in the future. God knows what you are thinking. God knows all the facts about any subject you can imagine.
God is everywhere at once. He is not limited by time or space.
God does only what is right, good and just.
God has no beginning and he has no end.
God is pure. There is nothing evil about God.
God has unlimited power and authority.
God never changes. He is the same today as God has always been.
God is one-of-a-kind.
God makes himself known by displaying these qualities so that any child can recognize them. The human mind cannot understand God completely. God exceeds our brain’s capacity. But you can understand a lot about God.
*God is spirit, but I use the male pronoun because it is what I encounter most often when people talk about God.You may substitute the female pronoun if you wish.
God exceeds our brain’s capacity but a child can understand a lot about God. See the basics here. Click to Tweet
Wondering what to say when a child asks about God? Here’s a description that does no harm. Click to Tweet
Physicist Charles Townes’ (pictured here) laser invention changed science and society, also bringing him the 1964 Nobel Prize. His reflections about his own lifebrought about my suggested resources (below) for gifted children who seek answers to the big questions.
Resource #1: Brainy people who will explore the child’s philosophical questions
Within your network of friends, find retired persons, intellectuals, and brilliant thinkers who are challenged by the big questions: what is the aim, purpose and meaning of this universe? Of our lives? See whether the child connects with any of these people and feels free to discuss deeper philosophical topics that are of interest to them.
Resource #2: Wisdom literature
Gifted children try to explore anything, think about everything, and ask lots of questions. Wisdom literature provides a foundational structure for the child’s evolving values and beliefs. A spiritual leader from your faith tradition can recommend books and may be willing to discuss them with the child. As Townes said, “Science seeks to discern the laws and order of our universe, including human life; religion, to understand the universe’s purpose and meaning, and how humankind fits into both.”
Resource #3: Volunteer work
Gifted youngsters are usually taught that there’s some purpose they will try to accomplish in their lives. But that’s very localized–what they want to do with their life. Be a person in their world who broadens their perspective. Volunteer work can often teach the gifted and talented child how to contribute to the well-being of others. It also helps them practice nurture and develop empathy for others: animals, family, neighbors, the environment… depending on the type of volunteer work chosen.
Resource #4: Regular conversation
Intellectually gifted children often have a higher capacity for deep conversation. When talking with a gifted child, ask broader questions about humanity: “What are human beings about in general? What is this universe all about? Where do brand-new ideas come from? To what extent does God help us?” You’ll probably be amazed at the answers you get as you help children broaden their thinking.
After Townes’ death in January 2015 at age 99…
…Michael Werner, project scientist for NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope and Paul Goldsmith, chief technologist for astronomy, physics and space technology at the Jet Propulsion Lab offered:
Townes was a teacher above all else….He was never too busy to talk with us, and he provides a dramatic counter-example to the cliche of the inaccessible professor. Townes’ legacy includes the many students he mentored, and it will be perpetuated as we pass on what we learned from him to future generations.
Let us also guide along the children in our lives, helping them explore issues of faith and meaning.
Tweetable: Gifted children often take an early interest in the big questions; four ideas here. Click to Tweet