When your child is a budding scientist, you scrub home experiments off your walls and ceiling. Your hard-earned money goes toward chemistry sets.
In addition to milk and eggs, your grocery cart contains oddball ingredients destined to bubble and overflow onto your bathroom floor.
You are scrambling to help them satisfy a deep passion for learning and unending curiosity.
Glen was one such child.
Fortunately his parents nurtured his scientific bent. The son of a deeply religious US Navy captain, Glen and his family were church members. Glen leaned toward science as a young man and went on to study nuclear physics at the university.
Science captivated his mind and soul.
“The nuclei were responding to our questions, speaking our mathematical language, completely understandable, telling us the nature of their binding forces,” he said. “It was as if they were saying to me, ‘Finally, someone has asked us. We have waited so many eons.'”
Glen recalled being “so spiritually elated after a day at the lab that I would go outdoors and just run as fast and as long as I could, in exultation and gratitude.”
Both mind and soul factored into an important career choice.
Years later, unwilling to aid in weapons development, Glen abandoned nuclear physics and moved into a teaching career, with Ethics as his area of specialization. He did not abandon his passion for intellectual study through observation and experimentation: “My way of thinking is incurably curious and integrative. I can’t teach Ethics without attention to numerous related disciplines.”
Children are going to experience the divine in different ways. Passionate scientific inquiry is one of them.
“be passionate in your work and in your searchings.” — ivan pavlov
- Be passionate in your work and in your searchings –Ivan Pavlov Click to Tweet
- Children experience the divine in different ways; passionate scientific inquiry is one. Click to Tweet
How can we help children develop an internal moral compass– a conscience– but without the negative baggage that guilt brings? How can we help them not just have a change of actions, but a change of heart?
A change of heart is the realm of the spirit
Spiritual perspective has to do with whether guilt leads to sadness for what the child has done. Guilt is a healthy response to one’s own wrongdoing. When a criminal has been convicted, we watch to see if they feel remorse. When someone feels no guilt for obvious and severe wrongdoing, society considers them a sociopath.
As children get older, their conscience is what bothers them when they have done something wrong. Often it prompts them to right a wrong, make amends, or apologize… all of which promote personal and social health.
Is guilt ever helpful?
I would say yes–- when it comes from the internal guidance system inside us as opposed to being heaped on us from others. A child’s internal guidance system gets educated by watching role models exercising their moral code and from sacred writings of their faith.
- Focus on what the child can do differently next time.
- Agree that the behavior is wrong. Avoid judging the the child’s character.
- Deliver consequences with empathy.
- Clarify positive outcomes that result from stopping the wrong-doing and starting to act differently. The uncomfortable guilty feeling goes away, replaced by the internal joy felt from doing the right thing.
Help 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.
Over the past 15 years, large strides have been made in the science behind how the brain develops and the settings and contexts that are conducive to learning. It’s brought exciting insights for enriching the human spirit!
Daily settings for increased brain development
Social relationships, emotional experiences and cognitive opportunities provide purposeful learning paths for the brain. Drive conversations causing kids to reflect upon, make sense of, and learn from the often misunderstood spiritual dimension. A child’s world may be seriously impoverished if we don’t.
As the brain develops, so does the human spirit.
The child’s spirit needs hope, and the comfort of knowing that a loving God is with them, watching over them wherever they are, wherever they go. Ask them, “When did you feel God’s love today?” They need to know what to do when they mess up and how to handle guilt. They want to know what God is like, and how to make a personal connection with God.
What we can do
Feed the child’s human spirit when, in responding to their questions and comments about God, we convey God’s love, affection, warmth and tenderness for the child. Make use of nurturing touch, empathy, empowerment, and unconditional love with children, to reflect the heart of our unseen God. Explore your own family’s religious or spiritual traditions to find accurate information about God. Where you find a disconnect here, go to trusted friends and sacred writings for wisdom.
Genuinely pursue a whole-child approach.
Not only are kids more likely to feel at peace with God, but they are more likely to care for others, and to pass that spiritual nurture down to future generations of children in their lives.
*(I read about the brain basis for integrated whole child development emerging from the lab of Dr. Mary Helen Immordino-Yang in USC’s alumni magazine.)
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
Over 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
- How am I feeling challenged as I try to instill moral values in children?
- Which of my efforts has been working well and I want to continue?
- What isn’t working in my interactions with them about their motives?
- What do I have to offer by way of personal examples of my intrinsic motivations?
- 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