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.
After five years of interviewing adults about their childhood spiritual experiences, I’ve seen common threads. Here’s one: As children, they didn’t have the vocabulary to express how they were processing spirituality and God. Can’t you see it in what this man told me?
“I remember I was four or five years old and feeding white ducks bread crumbs from the top of a playground slide. It seemed very wonderful to me for some reason and I dreamed about it and I can still see myself doing it. My thoughts couldn’t have been very abstract or sophisticated or articulated in any vocabulary I had at the time, but I felt I was in the presence of something greater than myself, in a world beyond the surface world where I was tossing down food onto the white ducks and feeling very whole, free, peaceful.”
That it, isn’t it? Children can’t articulate with the vocabulary they have at the time.
But we can help children build a spiritual vocabulary. We use the same methods we did when we taught them basic vocabulary words.
When they learned animal names, we had picture books of animals, “Where’s the bird? What does the bird say?” And when we went outdoors, “See the bird? Hear the bird?”
Use children’s literature to teach spiritual vocabulary.
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. 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.
There’s no need to bottle it up inside.
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 no need to bottle it up inside, they will talk freely and listen to others, thus understanding how normal and widespread is the spiritual dimension of life.
- Ideas to help children build a spiritual vocabulary by the same method you taught them basic vocabulary. Click to Tweet
- Children don’t know the words to use to express their spiritual experiences. See some ideas here. Click to Tweet
It’s hard to find child-sized words kids can use to express spiritual or transcendent experiences. “Kids need to know the words,” says middle school teacher Sheila Edwards. “When you’re giving to others, that’s sacrifice. Labeling it makes it powerful. Kids can say, ‘I did this—it shows I’m committed,’ or ‘This shows I have integrity.’”
A teacher told one student: “Jake’s mother told me that every kid in the class made fun of him when his nose was runny—everyone but you. Your compassion made a difference to Jake. He came home and told his mom about it.”
Our reward for giving children words
The reward for giving children language to go with their spiritual life is that we build a bridge connecting ourselves with the child in the deepest part of their being (and ours). If nurtured, it will remain so for the rest of our lives. And the child can form bonds like this with other trustworthy people because they have language to communicate at this level..
I know, because my mother did this with me.
For instance, in a supermarket line she said, “That clerk has an amazing amount of self-control. Look how patient and calm she is with the angry customer.” Or when I, as an 11-year-old, came sobbing to her about how I was afraid she would die, after comforting me emotionally, she said, “Honey, I am indestructible until my work on earth is finished and when it is, God will provide everything you need to live a good life.”
Start with photos
A young family can benefit from a Photo Album of family members’ generous, thoughtful actions. Young children remember IMAGES, not words. Print and hang actual photos near your dining table or attach them to the refrigerator. Change them periodically to show new expressions of the family’s spiritual values.
Move on to educate them with vocabulary words that match the behaviors.
Notice and affirm loving behavior. “Sage had trouble opening her straw. You did it and poked it into her juice box. That was helpful.”
I listen for, and excitedly affirm children when they use spiritual vocabulary, such as:
justice — mercy — God — peace — helpful –moral — faith — purpose — meaning — ethical — good — right — wrong — reason — conscience — spirit — soul — mind –worship — prayer — forgive — integrity — truth — inner life — loving
Each of these words becomes part of a child’s vocabulary. Once children identify language to go with their spiritual life, they can use those words in daily settings.Their everyday acts and interactions reflect a spiritual quality.
Spiritual qualities my mother’s words passed to me:
To hear with my heart
To see with my soul
To be guided by a hand I cannot hold
To trust in a way that I cannot see
That’s what faith must be. (Michael Card)
- It’s hard to find child-sized words kids can use to express spiritual or transcendent experiences. Click to Tweet
- Educate children with vocabulary words that reflect their ethical behavior. Read more here. Click to Tweet
Family photos reveal much about us and the people who shaped our early years. Why not take time with your children to learn something new from them? Dig a little deeper into scenes from previous generations. With photos on the screen before you, or with photo album in hand, here are a few ideas.
- Vocabulary words associated with family religious ceremonies (for example, kaddish, sanctification); and words that are no longer used by your family, and why.
- Words of wisdom: favorite expressions or words to live by used by people in the photo.
- Holiday decorations used in the photo and what they symbolize.
- Event pictured in the photo that triggered a change of heart or changed the relationship between people.
A New York Times op-ed notes that “many people now avoid religious and spiritual language because they don’t like the way it has been used, misused and abused by others.” Maybe we can help to rekindle confidence in the vocabulary of faith so that the mis-users and abusers will not dominate the conversation.
The blog series, Kids & God @Home, offers a question that gives opportunity for an adult and child or teen to have a conversation of a spiritual nature. Not often. Just often enough to impress that our spirituality is worth talking about.
Main point: If you love God, you can use any way you want to let God know it. Some kids write a letter to God or draw something that expresses how they feel. Most tell God in words they say out loud or keep in their thoughts. This is called prayer.
Meditation: “The Lord is close to everyone who prays to him, to all who truly pray to him.” Psalm 145:18
Let’s talk: “Some people pray just to pray and some people pray to know God.” (A. Murray) What does that sentence mean? How would you explain it to somebody?