When adults try to help children relate to others authentically, we generally promote qualities like patience, forgiveness, honesty, love, etc. These come to us by way of our human spirit. Strong spiritual awareness can figure prominently into our ability to form healthy relationships.
We become the live action video.
To help children develop these qualities means we must model them ourselves.We become the live action video– the indelible image of how to form authentic relationships.
To what degree have you practiced behaviors like these with the important children in your life?
- The child observes occasions when my actions and words respect persons different from me, allowing us to engage in dialogue about how to treat people with respect.
- Since people offend me at times, and the child knows about it, I am open about my ups and downs on the road to forgiveness and reconciliation.
- I model and encourage time for social gatherings, including spiritual or religious services.
- The child sees me listen to someone’s spiritual journey without injecting my own opinion.
- I encourage the child to find trusted adults besides me with whom they can talk about life and God.
You will adapt them to fit with your spiritual tradition.
Remember that in some cases you may need to adapt them to fit with your spiritual tradition, the qualities you value, and even your culture. For example, in #1 above, different people might reconcile “treat people with respect” with “standing up for oneself” in different ways. Here’s one mother’s experience:
My 7-year-old daughter Sophie came home one day very upset because her best friend Mariah said something insensitive about her height.
Sophie was very short for her age, and sensitive about it. Mariah, who was tall for her age, had no understanding that someone might be sensitive about her height.
I called Mariah’s mom and explained the situation. Both of us wanted to teach our daughters how to work through conflict productively.
We set up a meeting time for Sophie to share how she felt, for Mariah to hear, understand it, and apologize, and for Sophie to accept the apology and restore the relationship.
Both girls were afraid, as neither liked conflict, but they worked through the process as we coached them.
The result was a restored friendship, rather than the growing distance that occurs when hurt feelings go unaddressed.
Our family was later able to talk about that experience of recognizing when you have done something wrong, then asking for and receiving forgiveness, in the context of our Catholic tradition.
Tweetable: To what degree are you modeling authentic relationships for the important children in your life? Click to Tweet
“I don’t know what your destiny will be, but one thing I do know: the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found how to serve.” (Albert Schweitzer, Nobel Peace Prize 1952). Can’t we all think of occasions when we have seen the truth of this in our own lives? As a result, we should seize any opportunity to include children in service to others.
Service means sacrifice.
True service costs you something. That “something” could be time, money or social capital. When we truly serve others, it costs us. Children instinctively know this. Help them count the cost.
See how this girl sacrificed social capital.
My friend’s 8-year-old daughter was talking about a girl in her class who kept trying to hang out with her and her group of friends, but no one liked her and no one wanted to include her. My friend told her this story:
When I was in 5th grade, we had a girl named Cora who was new to the school. She came from a poor family, wore old sweatsuits to school and sometimes smelled bad. She seemed sad and lonely.
The kids would tease her in ways that–looking back now–were really mean. I didn’t join in on the teasing, but I wasn’t particularly friendly either.
One day, I was chosen to be one of the team captains for a Spelling Bee. Back in those days, the captains would take turns choosing people for their team until no one was left. Cora was always chosen last, no matter what the teams were for.
I decided today would be different. I chose Cora first, even before my best friend. I still remember the look of surprise and delight on her face as she jumped up to join my team.
Even now, in my 40s, that’s one of my proudest moments.
Consider ways you can show children how to take initial steps toward outward service.
- I help the child learn to recognize when people are calling for love or help. From time to time I ask, “Who do we know who needs a blessing today?”
- I use my childhood stories of standing up for what was right to encourage the child to walk away from doing wrong, even when friends do not.
- I encourage the child to be involved with ecology–preserving and restoring the earth.
- The child sees me perform spiritual activities (meditation, service to others).
- When the child talks about those in distress (animals, the planet, people), I find non-profit organizations that alleviate the suffering and encourage the child to join or help.
Which have you tried in the past? What could you try this week? with which child?
- Consider these ways you can show children how to take initial steps toward service to others. Click to Tweet
- True service to others costs something: time, money, social capital. Teach children to count the cost. Click to Tweet
If you have been following this blog for any length of time, you know the spiritual development of a child begins and ends with the choices of the child. We cannot (and should not try to) force a child into a particular belief or spiritual practice.
Yet we can walk beside them to provide support their their journey of discovery. They want trusted adults to act as sounding boards and coaches as they work out their spiritual questions and ideas.
Specifically, what is the adult’s role?
In this next series of blog entries, you can browse 8 different components or categories within human spirituality and select ways to engage with the important children in your life.We will look at one each week for the next eight weeks.
8 Components of Spirituality
- Personal transformation
- Authentic relationships
- Generous living
- Spiritual responsiveness
- Sacrificial service
- Guiding others
- Community transformation
- Experiencing God
For each of these general areas we’ll provide lists, specific examples, and ideas you can take and use to strengthen the child’s human spirit. You decide which are best for you.
Cull our lists.
Recognize you may need to adapt certain items to fit well with your spiritual tradition or beliefs. For example, if sacred writings are mentioned, which ones do you mean? Or if showing hospitality or caring for the earth aren’t values or important parts of your tradition, are there other values you substitute for them?
Above all, remember never to force.
The adult’s role is to model, initiate conversations, and provide resources and opportunities. The adult’s role is not force or indoctrination.
Take your time.
Spiritual development takes a lifetime and cannot be crammed. Be careful not to push kids where they’re not ready. A checklist of ideas is not something you can go through in a month or a year.
Chart your path forward.
Focus more mindfully on spiritual development now and your decisions can improve the child’s future.
Tweetable: New series directs adults to the priority moral values a child needs for spiritual proficiency. Click to Tweet
I’m not the first one to notice the earnest way children talk about and ask about God. They are curious. After all, they can hear about God almost every day. On the playground, at the park, at the zoo, basically anywhere people are talking: Oh my God. Oh God, no! Goddammit! I swear to God….
They are curious about this. Children want to talk about and ask about God.
Who is God? Why can’t I see God? Where does God live and is his mom there? How old is God? Is God a person? Was God born from an Easter egg?
Notice these two children who expected and responded to a God who cares, nourishes and feeds. It’s their natural instinct:
“When my pet cat died I wanted to know where my cat went, why she couldn’t come back, etc. I was completely satisfied with my parents’ answers of ‘She went to heaven; God is watching over her now.’ That’s when I realized there was some other higher being out there. I felt peace. I remember it distinctly. It was peace knowing that there was someone watching and caring for us that we couldn’t see or touch, but they were out there.”
“Around age four I was hungry to read stories from a large Reader’s Digest Bible Story Book that my Mom had ordered. We didn’t go to church so these stories were completely new to me. I was amazed and was so drawn by the stories read to me by my Mom and sister.”
We nurture the human spirit when, in responding to questions and comments about God, we convey God’s love, affection, warmth and tenderness for the child, despite any reservations of our own we may have.
- Two different parents respond to their child’s natural instinct to ask questions about God. Click to Tweet
- Parents should respond positively to kids’ questions about God despite their own reservations. Click to Tweet