We all heard the question as kids ourselves, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Hard to say or predict but these six questions can lead you into an interesting conversation with older elementary or tween children. Questions are taken from Ralph T. Mattson and Arthur F. Miller, Jr., Finding A Job You Can Love,
P&R Publishing, Phillipsburg, NJ, 1982.
1. What are your most important achievements? (not experiences like going to Hawaii; not talents like being a good artist). Example: I directed and starred in plays with my cousins.The most successful play included transforming an unused tool shed in the backyard into a castle.
Admiration or envy
2. Who do you envy or admire? (break it down until you get an idea of exactly what the child admires. Example: Jen made a You Tube video (a skill); Tomas got the most applause at the talent show (a result); Uncle Steve gets to work in a jungle (a location); Connor’s dad does cycling with him (a relationship.
Angry or upset
3. What upsets or angers you about the world?
4. When you have free time, what do you return to do again and again?
5. What rewards (both obvious and intangible) mean the most to you?
6. What activities and events do you look forward to doing before they happen? (Anticipation is an indication of how people are motivated to work or play.)
If you are someone currently helping children develop their souls, seven warning signs can tell you if you’re tilting off course. Run through this list periodically and consider which areas might be interfering in the child’s spiritual development or sending negative messages.
- Spiritual sharing that is not age-appropriate or personality-appropriate (i.e. scaring or confusing children).
- Modeling behaviors that are different from we teach children to do (i.e. not practicing what we preach).
- Refusing to admit our own mistakes, hiding our faults, blaming others (i.e. lack of honesty and taking responsibility).
- Assuming that young children aren’t interested in learning about God (i.e. silence on the subject of God).
- Waiting to talk with children about God until they have done something wrong (i.e. creating feelings of guilt and judgment around God).
- Teaching by our actions that many other things in life are more important than God and spirituality (i.e. ignoring God and prioritizing other areas of life–sports, activities, hobbies, romantic relationships, social events)
- Forcing children to agree with whatever we think about God (i.e. forgetting that a child has the right to make up his or her own mind).
If you’re thinking that’s a lot to remember and be responsible for, you’re not alone. Helping children develop spiritually is not a one-person job. Fortunately, you can turn to resources outside the family like the connection with a faith community.
Faith communities provide plenty of opportunities for adults and children to make social, medical, spiritual and educational contributions to society. I know two boys and their mom who filled bags of food during the pandemic and took the bags to their church’s food pantry to be safely distributed to needy people. Even children show what they are by what they do.
Ask children: What big change has our family gone through (a death, moving into a new neighborhood, a crisis)? How did our friends share with us and support us? How did you respond? What did you learn from that? What can you pass along to others from what was done to us?
Meditation: Jesus said, “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” John 13:35. Even children are known by the way they act, whether their conduct is pure, and whether it is right. Proverbs 20:11
Main point: Children who give their time and talents to get involved in their community are often driven, in part, by their desire to bring more love into everyday life.
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?
A high school girl reads a chapter of Proverbs from the Bible every school day while she eats breakfast. She says this book helps guide her decisions and actions.
Main point: Some students discover a worthy source of guidance within the Bible. They try to put into practice what they read, and remain faithful to it.
Meditation: “Tune your ears to wisdom, and concentrate on understanding…Search for them as you would for silver, seek them like hidden treasures.” Proverbs 2:2,4
Let’s talk: What principles in the Bible guide your decisions and actions?
The source of spiritual strength for some children lies in their focus on right and wrong. For them, knowing what’s right moves them to action. Teachers and parents can teach them safe practices for speaking up, and how to involve responsible adults as they advocate for change.
Main idea: When you feel angry or sad about a wrong being done, you get moving to change it.
Meditation: “Come back to your God. Act with love and justice, and always depend on him.” Hosea 12:6
Let’s talk: Describe a time when you stood up for truth and justice. What kind of courage did you show? In what ways did you sense God’s presence with you to help you?