Spirituality is passed on from generation to generation. How can you help the important children in your life learn to offer strength of spirit to others?
Look at the peer counselor-mentor programs in schools.
In all the programs I studied, teachers select children to be mentors-helpers who display traits and qualities arising from the human spirit, like honesty, caring, tolerant of differences and interested in guiding others. They may help students make a smooth transition into a new school or increase acceptance of students with diverse needs.
A child’s experience of God is just as legitimate as that of an adult.
But passing along spirituality to others can be fraught with many pitfalls and misconceptions. So we show children how to do this appropriately through modeling, dialogue and encouragement.
Here are a few specific strategies for passing along spiritual vision to others.
Adapt them to fit your context and faith tradition.
- Because I take classes, read, and am active in a faith community, I demonstrate to the child that the spiritual journey is lifelong.
- I talk about and model my own life purpose with the child. The child has heard me describe very simply the essentials of my faith and what I believe God is like.
- When the child asks me questions about God, heaven, etc, I tell him or her what I believe to be true, add one differing viewpoint, then ask what the child thinks.
- I teach the child about the major world religions and their founders.
- I know the spiritual legacy I want to leave in the lives of my family and friends, and I am working toward that goal.
We must never try to force or convince, yet we must still be open to children and adults who are curious and seeking. After all, consider how grateful we are to those who shared their spirituality with us in positive ways. We needed their help and guidance and they were there for us. We can be there for the children in our lives as well, and we model for them how they can in turn pass that benefit on to others.
Tweetable: Passing along spirituality to children can be fraught with many misconceptions. A new perspective here. Click to Tweet
I watch my grandchildren regularly while their parents are working. One day I drove them and their friends on a day trip to a nearby town. It was supposed to be a fun trip, but the car was full and noisy.
One of my grandchildren in particular was acting up and arguing about some small point. After several back-and-forth exchanges, I lost my temper and yelled at the child. Suddenly, the whole car was silent.
Sound familiar? This grandfather realized he messed up. It is an almost universal aspiration for children and adults–even grandfathers–to recognize that we have certain weaknesses, flaws or character defects we want to change.
And what did this grandfather do?
I pulled over to the side of the road and turned around to apologize. I explained how sometimes I lose my temper and shouldn’t have responded like that. I talked about a few ways I’m trying to work on changing this.
Later I heard that this incident made a big impression on one of the grandchild’s friends. He’d never heard an adult apologize to a child before, especially without blaming the child for the anger.
6 SPECIFIC IDEAS TO FACE DOWN FLAWS:
1. Admit my weaknesses.
I am able to admit my mistakes and weaknesses in the child’s presence. I speak of my willing attitude to open myself up to God for help in overcoming.
2. Put my strengths to work.
Since I know my own talents, strengths and skills, I am able to speak freely to the child about using my strengths, together with God’s, to accomplish much.
3. Think, reflect, analyze.
I encourage time for my own reflection on great teachings and spiritual experiences, and I talk to the child about the degree to which I’ve allowed them to transform my inner life.
4. Illustrate life lessons through storytelling.
I use my memories and stories to explain life lessons to the child, yet recognizing that their experiences will be different.
5. Evaluate and change my flaws.
I set aside regular times of reflection upon my activities and use of my personal assets (money, time, energy), considering their effectiveness. I speak to the child about what I need to change and how I plan to go about it.
6. Notice positive changes and say so.
I comment on positive changes I notice in the child by describing, not judging, his or her journey of growth.
The ideas above are built on the foundational assumption that you yourself are also engaged in a journey of personal transformation.
In which of the points above do you engage regularly? Which do you need to be more intentional about? What responses have you seen in children when you practiced these behaviors?
TWEETABLE: As children develop a conscience; many want the help offered here to change bad behavior. Click to Tweet
The experience of God is certainly unique to each individual. Some speak of God as largely inside of us. Others say God is watching us from a distance. Even in religious families who share a theology, each family member walks on his or her own daily path in relationship to God.
How can I show children some possible avenues for experiencing God?
Perhaps some of the ideas below will spark your thinking, fitting them into your understanding of God, if necessary.
- When difficult or frightening events have occurred in my life, I have explained to the child how I sensed God was present with me.
- I am able to discuss with the child the varied avenues or ways God has used to communicate with me and/or others.
- I am in touch with God’s presence in the world and see evidence of God working behind the scenes. I am able to engage in conversations with the child about “coincidences.”
- When the child expresses disappointment or doubt, I respond with empathy. I encourage him or her to take those feelings directly to God, emphasizing that God is not put off by them.
One father told his kids how he found God communicating with him (see #2 above):
Now I am not someone who claims to hear from God regularly and you know I’m not particularly religious. But there is one time in my life—when the two of you were just a few years old—that I am convinced God was speaking to me.
I was about to go for a snowmobile ride and in all the many times I have gone snowmobiling I have never used a helmet. But this particular day I had this strong sense of a voice telling me to put on a helmet. It wasn’t an audible voice, but it was just as insistent as if it were.
I tried to ignore it, but it wouldn’t go away: “Put on a helmet.” I didn’t even own a helmet. After a couple of hours, I finally gave up and went out to go buy a helmet. I wore it that day and got into a terrible accident where I broke both legs, one arm, and a lot of ribs. The doctor said I would definitely have died if not for the helmet.
I believe that was God’s way of trying to keep me alive because he knew your mother would be dying of cancer just a few years later.
Our task is to give a firm footing to a child’s experience of God.
Tweetable: 4 ideas to guide your conversation when a child talks about sensing or experiencing God. Click to Tweet
Children are just like us… we practice occasional acts of kindness toward others, but more generally take an outlook focused on ourselves. How can we encourage acts of kindness so children’s perspectives focus outward more often — on the gifts they have to contribute to the world? On the good they can do for others? On understanding the feelings and perspectives of others?
Think through this list with one specific child in mind.
- I support the child’s wish to offer hospitality through his or her invitations to family, friends and even strangers.
- I use my money, time and talents for the good of myself and my family while also considering the needs of others. The child has seen me set aside money for charitable contributions.
- I encourage the child to use his or her own money, time and talents in service to others. I can then point to specific ways the child did this.
- When praying, I notice I am able to say “Thanks God,” in addition to asking for favors. Many times I tell the child what I am thankful for and we talk about gratitude.
- When the child practices spontaneous acts of kindness or generosity, I notice and point it out to the child.
Such a posture doesn’t come about naturally for most of us.
It requires some effort and intentionality, as seen in this parent’s story.
My daughter, now 13, still remembers the morning we passed a woman at an intersection with a sign asking for help. Being 5 years old, she could read the words “Hungry. Have some spare change? Anything helps.”
As my daughter reached for the spare change I keep in the car for parking meters, I explained, “Sometimes it’s not good to give money directly, but her sign says she is hungry, so maybe she would like some breakfast.”
At that, my daughter brightened and we drove around the block to pass the woman again. She readily agreed to breakfast and smiled at my cute curly-haired girl.
We had breakfast at the 24-hour diner on the corner and listened to some of her story she was willing to share.
It left a lasting impression on my daughter, as well as a continuing desire to help the poor.
Review the five points again. What are some ways you can help the children in your life practice generous living?
Tweetable: How we encourage acts of kindness so children’s perspectives focus outward more often. 5 ideas here. Click to Tweet
Children think about God. They like to talk about God. Each person experiences God in a different way, and some not much at all. Some adults consider it a private matter, hesitating to speak of it even with the children we love most. It can be difficult for kids to learn responsiveness to God if we won’t give up a bit of our privacy.
How many of these statements are true of you?
- I pray in front of the child.
- I give concrete examples of when I have seen God at work in or around me, and how I responded to seeing that.
- I worship and highly esteem God, even more than I worship success, entertainment, money, or other people.
- Sometimes I start a conversation with the child: “I see God in that person. Do you want to know how?”
- When I see a stranger doing a random act of kindness I point it out to the child.
Consider each idea in turn, from the list above.
- In which have you already engaged with specific children? What was their response?
- Is there one you want to try? With which children?
- Remember, you have the option to adapt the ideas to fit with your understanding of God, if necessary.
When you read the example below, in what specific ways do you see the mother modeling and teaching responsiveness to God?
When I was making a difficult decision about whether to take a particular job in another state, I intentionally decided to let my 9-year-old son in on my process. I told him about the opportunity and we made a Pros and Cons list, but we didn’t stop there.
I told him I wanted to pray to God about what God would want me to do. I asked my son if he would also pray and listen for whatever God might be telling him, especially since this decision affected him, too.
We prayed and talked together over the course of a few weeks, and eventually came to the same conclusion. This new job would provide many more opportunities for me to help people were were sick and in need. (I am in the medical field.)
There was nothing crucial to keep us in the location where we were. Even though the money would be less, we both felt released by God to move so that I could take this new opportunity.
Tweetable: It can be difficult for kids to learn spiritual responsiveness if we won’t give up a bit of our privacy. Click to Tweet