Within my family I’m a great-aunt, and to some of my friends, I’m “like-an-aunt” to their kids or grandchildren. I’m also “like-a-grandma” to two dear children. What spiritual impact can extended family have on kids?
Time well spent
We’re inching our way toward time well spent with the children we love. I find that kids appreciate one-on-one time most. Sherry Turkle, psychologist at MIT, says,”There’s a brand-new dynamic. Rather than compete with their siblings for their parents’ attention, children are up against iPhones and iPads, Siri and Alexa, Apple watches and computer screens.” Extended family can give children additional undivided attention outside of busy everyday family life. We listen and mirror back to a child what we hear, which helps them process and accept what they feel and think.
Discover life’s purpose
When’s the last time you pulled out your phone to do something and you get distracted, and 30 minutes later you find that you’ve done 10 other things except the thing that you pulled out the phone to do. There’s fragmentation and distraction.
For kids who do this, there’s something on a longer-term level to keep in view: that sense of what you’re about.
Extended family has the luxury of spending a child’s free time with them. As we have fun together without gadgets, we adults can create a shared narrative with a child, a shared truth or shared facts. All of these strengthen a child’s foundation upon which they discover their moral purpose. We’re empowering a child to become the person he or she wants to be.
Tweetable: Two more easy ways to empower children to become the person he or she wants to be. But first, put down those gadgets but not before you check this out! Click to Tweet
When two of our nieces were small, they and their parents would get together with us about once a month and it always included a meal. When it was my turn to cook, I made lots of recipes not in the girls’ normal diet. On the drive to our house, their mom would play a guessing game with them, which she says was a high point of the drive—What kind of meat do you think we’re going to have? salad? dessert? Their mother was preparing them to try new tastes and textures, and to eat, with gratitude, whatever was put before them.
The power of diversity
“Diversity gives the brain a powerful workout. And, just like a physical workout, it can be incredibly good for us,” says Julie Van de Vyver, assistant professor of Psychology at Durham University.
We may tend to gravitate toward people with whom we share life experiences and values, but Julie goes on to say, “When people are exposed to a more diverse group of people, their brains are forced to process complex and unexpected information. [We see this in] teens who study abroad and demonstrate enhanced creativity.”
Take the same attitude toward spiritual exploration.
As adults we need to develop and guide children’s innate spirituality. We encourage open dialogue and exploration as children engage in their own journeys of ongoing discovery—even it if makes us uncomfortable, and even if we run the risk of them coming to different conclusions from our own. Our role is not to make their choices for them—which we cannot do anyway—but to guide them in their own unique process of spiritual development.
- Read books or watch movies about children with different religious backgrounds from your family.
- Welcome friends to share your religious holiday traditions and then switch and participate in theirs.
Opening ourselves to new experiences can seem hard to do, but it can help children cross divides and create a feeling of connectedness with others and with the divine.
* Inspiration for this post here.
Tweetable: Reflections on the power of diversity, even in spiritual exploration with children. Become an advocate for them to form their own expressions. Click to Tweet
“I asked the boys to find something they wanted to give each other (in secret), and told them that afterwards we would use some scrap paper and wrap the “gifts” up. They happily ran around trying to find things (my two-year-old usually came back with things that were way too big to fit into the paper) and I helped them fold the paper around the objects before they gave them to each other.”
“They also asked me to give them presents (and gave presents to me), so we all took turns sharing the wrapping paper and presenting gifts to each other. It was amazing how much fun they had with this!”
Handling gifts, a frequent childhood occurrence
Janice Kaplan’s story from her family is a reminder of the year-full of birthday parties to which kids will take all kind of gifts. Then there are the gifts kids are going to receive on their birthday and various holidays throughout the remaining months of this year.
My Aunt Alice likes to say that class isn’t wealth or beauty or education; class is manners.
Janice Kaplan says that the simple activity described above was one way she helped her sons learn the manners of gift-giving, and she is teaching them to:
- Practice thinking about other people while we choose gifts.
- Practice saying “thank you.”
- Practice looking for the good qualities of the gift (for example, “Wow that is a really bright highlighter!”).
- Discuss that someone gives a gift to show love to the other person, not necessarily because the other person wants the thing they are receiving.
- Discuss the possibility of not getting what you “want.”
- Remember the purpose of gifts, that they are a sign of love.
I like Janice’s use of “practice” because it indicates that gift giving and receiving is a skill children can use to express their love and appreciation. And when they receive something from us, don’t all of us like hearing those magic words, thank you?
Tweetable: A mom’s excellent idea for reinforcing the skill of giving and receiving gifts in her young sons. Here are the details. Click to Tweet