An underrated yet powerful motivator for kids

loving sister

One consistently underrated motivator for kids is the moral or spiritual motivation. We’re trained to think kids won’t care about doing the right or courageous thing for its own sake. But what is almost every classic kids’ movie or book about? The classic clash between good and evil and being on  the right side of the battle, even when it’s hard. There’s something intrinsically motivating about being good, brave or honorable.

Motivator: The self-sacrifices of 9/11

First responders, a group of airline passengers, and many more on 9/11 touched our global society through their internal motivations, their moral convictions driving their actions. The powerful drive to do the good and right thing was laid brick by brick in childhood. In a crisis moment the curtain was pulled back on their heart, soul, conscience (call it what you will) propelling them to a level of moral greatness the world recognized.

Motivator: A Little League coach adds another brick

motivator, Little League pitcherOver this past season, I watched a Little League coach lead his team of 9-year-olds in giving affirmations to teammates in a post-game ritual. There goes another brick into the boys’ ethical foundation: the importance of seeing the good in others. By blending a kind of balance between their physical and moral growth, this coach makes a deposit that will bring a return for the rest of their lives.

Dimensions of the spiritual foundation

Authors Charles R. Ridley and Robert E.Logan identify dimensions that can become cornerstones in people’s spiritual foundations. Over the next several articles here we will offer conversation starters and activities that can be done on the run if you’d like to motivate kids to add some more bricks to the foundation of their internal moral motivation.

  • Community transformation
  • Authentic relationships
  • Personal character development
  • Generous living
  • Sacrificial service
  • Spiritual responsiveness
  • Experiencing God

First, self-reflection—

  1. How am I feeling challenged as I try to instill moral values in children?
  2. Which of my efforts has been working well and I want to continue?
  3. What isn’t working in my interactions with them about their motives?
  4. What do I have to offer by way of personal examples of my intrinsic motivations?
  5. Who else in our family’s circle of relationships demonstrates intrinsic motivations I respect? What am I doing to get the kids together with them?

Tweetable: Strive to balance physical, intellectual and spiritual development of children. Go here for ideas to solidify moral (spiritual) development. Click to Tweet

Childhood spiritual styles: Enthusiastic Style

The different ways children experience God can be called their spiritual style. With their mind and heart they form a positive relationship with God in the best, most natural way for each of them.

Many styles within the same spiritual tradition

Typically you and the children in your life share a family spiritual tradition but we do not necessarily live out our faith or our ethics in the same ways.   Adults will be more effective in helping children make their own discoveries about God and life when we understand their natural impulses (and our own).

The Enthusiastic Style: The child celebrates the power and presence of God through excitement.

Note the items that apply to children in your life to determine whether they posses an enthusiastic style of spirituality.

  1. For this child, being excited about God is an important aspect of faith.
  2. The God of this child’s understanding is a God of action.
  3. It is important to the child to experience coincidences where he believes God is alive and active in the world.
  4. The child doesn’t want to be bored.
  5. The child desires to join in on God’s work in the world.
  6. It is important for the child to feel the presence of God.
  7. The child likes to pray for things we would call miracles.

Discovery questions for enthusiastic children

  • Where did you find yourself laughing, crying, joyful or inspired by something God did?
  • What needs do you see that you’d jump at the chance to meet?
  • What have you done in your life that you’d love to do more of?
  • What experiences do you want to have in your lifetime? How do they relate to God?
  • What do you see God is doing all around you?
  • Where did you feel God’s powerful presence in a situation?

Adapted from The 3 Colors of Your Spirituality, by Christian A. Schwarz.

Tweetable:  Enthusiastic children feel God’s power and presence even when we do not, so don’t discourage them. Click to Tweet


Childhood spiritual styles: Sharing Style

Has anyone ever asked you about your personal spiritual style? Has anyone ever offered to support you in exactly that area, the area of your strongest receptiveness for the divine? Or has it been your experience that most [people] are so focused on their own approach to God that they believe it is the right one, or at least the best one, for everyone else?

Researcher Christian Schwarz posed these questions as he explained why he considers his study identifying spiritual styles to be important in understanding how both adults and children seek and find God. In recent posts, we discussed Sensory, Rational and Bold Idealistic styles. Here we add another.

sharing by helping my sisterThe Sharing Style: A child passes on the grace of God through service.

Note the statements that apply to children in your life to help identify whether they may possess a sharing style of spirituality.

  1. The child strongly senses God’s presence whenever they show grace and forgiveness to others.
  2. Often the child’s prayers are for people who aren’t experiencing love from other people and/or God.
  3. The child is drawn to service projects and other ways to share with others.
  4. The child notices and comments when people do random acts of kindness in everyday life.
  5. The child expresses a desire to respond to the hurts and needs of people.
  6. The child looks for ways to include everyone.
  7. You can see the child’s faith grow when he experiences God in his interactions with people.

Discovery questions for sharing children:

If you can identify four or more of the statements above you can probably recall several times when the child connected with God through sharing.

young child is sharing by helpingThe following questions may be useful as you seek to strengthen the area of their strongest receptiveness for the divine.

  • How did you experience God by giving?
  • How did you see God in other people’s kind actions?
  • What does this show you about God?
  • How were you feeling when someone shared with you?
  • How does that connect with who God is?
  • When were you able to forgive someone who wronged you?

Coming up: The Enthusiastic style

Adapted from The 3 Colors of Your Spirituality, by Christian A. Schwarz.

Tweetable: A child’s spiritual style is important in understanding how they seek and find God. More here. Click to Tweet

Childhood spiritual styles: Bold Idealistic Style

A child’s spiritual style is not the same as personality or character. Rather, it describes the way the child most naturally connects with God. Our aim here is to give adults some tools for leading children to discover and experience further growth in their faith in a way that connects to them most effectively.

Previously we discussed sensory style and rational style. Now we look at a third way children express their individual style.

bold idealistic kids seek truthThe Bold Idealistic Style:  A child thinks correctly about God through doctrines and truth.

Note the items below that apply to the children in your life to assess their inclination toward this style. .

  1. A theological system that reflects God’s truth helps the child in her spirituality.
  2. The child possesses unwavering belief that this theological system is correct.
  3. The accuracy of the child’s beliefs is of utmost importance.
  4. The child demonstrates a strong sense of justice.
  5. It is important to the child that his faith does not depend on emotion.
  6. The child feels close to God when she takes a stand for a cause even at great personal expense.

Discovery questions for bold idealistic children

bold idealistic kids need sacred writingsIf you notice four or more of the above characteristics, the child probably has a natural pattern of taking unwavering stands for his or her convictions. The following questions may be useful as you seek to help children mature in their style.

  • How did you express your beliefs and convictions today?
  • What attitude did you have?
  • When is your anger triggered by an injustice?
  • What kind of courage will you need to stand up for truth and justice?
  • How do you defend the needs, worth and convictions of a person, an animal or a cause?

Adapted from Christian A. Schwarz, The 3 Colors of Your Spirituality.

Tweetable: Children with strong convictions can see their bold idealism influence even spiritual beliefs. Click to Tweet