Security and boundaries in children’s spiritual exploration

The very idea of allowing children to develop their own spirituality can be anxiety-producing, whether a family is religious or not (after all, no one wants them joining a cult). Yet attending to things of eternal significance is a wide-open field of exploration for children– one in which they want their caregivers to allow them room to explore while also providing enough security and boundaries to keep them safe.

A child’s repeated experience of exploring in safe surroundings teaches toddlers that they are not likely to get hurt, that they can trust their caregivers to keep them safe, and that new experiences are enjoyable.

dark bridge securityPicture it this way…

Educator Janet Gonzalez-Mena wrote, “Imagine driving over a bridge in the dark. If the bridge has no railings we will drive across it slowly and tentatively. But if we see railings on either side of us, we can drive over the bridge with easy confidence.

This is good news.

Children’s curiosity and desire to explore eternity is revealed by their questions:  What happens when people die? Why do bad things happen?  Yet those same questions also reveal a desire for adult engagement in that exploration. That adult engagement provides the safety rails.

We allow children room to explore while also providing enough boundaries to keep them safe. We dialogue with them and allow them to ask questions… no matter what kinds of questions those might be. And we give God as much time as God needs to bring wisdom and guidance to them.


Build a child’s spiritual vocabulary

spiritual vocabulary wordsHelp children build a spiritual vocabulary, using the same methods as when you taught them basic vocabulary words. When they learned animal names, you had picture books of animals, “Where’s the bird? What does the bird say?” And when you went outdoors, “See the bird? Hear the bird?

Spiritual vocabulary in kid lit

Use children’s literature in the same way. It’s packed with stories about the human spirit developing and prevailing.  When you read to children, emphasize and repeat age-appropriate spiritual vocabulary words such as right, wrong, conscience, character, wise, forgive, as these concepts come up in the book.

Spiritual vocabulary in your conversation

Use these vocabulary words in normal everyday conversations. As children get older, you can move on to words like mindful, ethics, purpose, presence, worship, spirit, soul, self and reason.

When they know words like these, they’ll be equipped with a vocabulary to express themselves as they begin to work out the complexities of life.  With greater self-assurance, they might talk freely and listen non-judgmentally to others, thus understanding how normal and widespread is the spiritual dimension of life.