Kids caring about their neighbors

neighbors movingDays ago, I emptied the last cardboard moving box and heaved a weary sigh of relief as I flattened it for recycling. At least now I could see all our stuff.

Where to put it is another matter.

At this stage of my life, I’ve decided the best option for me is to let the house itself provide a boundary. My goal is to fill the spaces provided, and not to store much. Time will tell whether that goal survives or crashes on a heap of good intentions.

I have five old bookcases and one 3-drawer dresser lining the walls of the garage where I put plastic containers of holiday decorations, out-of-season clothes, tools, that sort of thing. A shelf overhanging the hood of the car gives a place for bulky items like a tent and sleeping bags.

In the midst of all this settling in, neighbors and friends lend their helping hands.

neighborsneighbors girlsOn Sunday afternoon, the two girls who live next door came over with plates of homemade pastries and Welcome messages. Other neighbors gifted us with food or plants, and conversations started which will be continued.

The fifth-grade girl two houses down from us has a Lemonade Stand on the front lawn where she’s collecting money for a food pantry here in town.  Here’s an idea about kids and hospitality.

Hospitality is a character trait.

And character is what we are at our core. “There is an inner self that forms the root of the outer self,” wrote Lewis Smedes.”The inner self is probably heart and mind. About how we intend to shape our behavior. About the tilt of our wills. How we are disposed to live. Maybe deeper things than this too, but at least this.”

An important part of children’s spiritual formation is about growing in character. More than that, of course, but for children, especially that.

Tweetable:  Are people moving into your building or onto your block? Involve the kids as you welcome the newcomers. Some ideas here can inspire you. Click to Tweet



Rediscovering the sacred, for kids’ sake!

Mr. Rogers treated children and their inner lives as sacred. Sacred is defined as connected with God; holy; blessed.

sacred and spiritual life“Talking to children about God is a key component of their sense of self,” says Rabbi David Wolpe. “Children are taught that they are important, but why are they important?” He continues, “Ask children why they matter. I have asked thousands of children, ‘Why are you important?’ The usual answers are, ‘I get good grades; I am good at sports; I have a job; my parents love me.’

“All these answers spell trouble, because they are all based on something human, and everything human can change. Are we always going to be the brightest in the class, or have that job or feel our parents’ love? Do you really want your child’s self-esteem to be based on your emotional constitution? Is there no varying basis for self-worth?”

Made in God’s image

“The Bible says that God created human beings in the divine image. What if we could say to a child: ‘All your qualities are wonderful, but beyond all that, you matter because you are in the image of God?’ God loves you and that love never changes.

A strong sense of self

When we do that, not only have we given children a constant basis of self-esteem, but a noncomparative basis. Teaching children about God is a way of giving a firm footing to their spiritual life.” *

As adults we can learn how to look for the sacred—the image of God—in everyday life. And then we can show the children we love how to look for the sacred in their daily lives. Imagine the impact it would make on our neighborhoods.

*Rabbi David Wolpe’s words are taken from My Jewish Learning.

Tweetable: Finding the sacred moments in everyday living is more valuable than power or money because these moments connect us to God who loves us unconditionally and this is good news to kids. Click to Tweet

Empathy–do this simple, free activity with kids

After reading Bob Sornson’s book, Stand in My Shoes: Kids learning about empathy, Sheila Sjolseth wrote about a family activity worth sharing with our readers.

The ability to notice what others feel

Empathy is “the ability to notice what other people feel. Empathy leads to the social skills and personal relationships which make our lives rich…, and it is something we can help our children learn,” says Bob Sornson,

Sheila’s idea

empathy shoes exerciseI’m quoting here from Sheila’s account of what she did to reinforce the book’s theme with her children.  “The book is about a little girl in her quest to learn to think from another’s perspective, recognize need, and see ways to help fill those needs.  In nine different situations where someone needs help, the main character tries to imagine what that person is going through and attempts to help.”

After reading the story and discussion the situations, we decided to try and look at life from the perspective of the members in our family.”

We wanted to answer the questions:

  • What bothers this person?
  • What makes this person happy?

We gathered up our shoes

empathy boy's shoe“We took turns standing in each other’s shoes and tried to imagine what it is like to be the other person in order to answer the questions.

Some of the answers were funny:

“When wearing my shoes, to answer the question “What bothers Mom?”–one boy answered, “smelly toots.”  The other boy said, “when we don’t eat our food.”  And, I realized that he was right!  It bothers me when the boys don’t eat.

The activity just took a few minutes

But we learned that we knew quite a bit about each other.  When we didn’t really know the answer, other members of the family chimed in to help out.  And, it is always silly fun to try and walk around in someone else’s shoes!

My spiritual takeaway

When we practice empathy we bring God’s character to bear in life situations. God understands everything we feel and we in turn extend this understanding to others with whom we share life.

* Find Sheila Sjolseth here.

Tweetable: Keep on trying–teach kids to recognize need and think of ways to meet needs for people close to them at school or home. This simple, quick, imaginative activity might get the point across to some kids in your life. Click to Tweet

Children ask, “Why does God allow disasters?”

flood why God? The headline in my local newspaper reads, “Worst [flood] in a generation,” as the Russian River turned storm-battered towns into islands. Once again, older kids ask: “What was God thinking?” Why does God allow innocent people to suffer?

When I talk with children I draw from the thinking of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks:.

God is not in disasters.

There’s a great conversation recorded in the Old Testament* between God and a holy man, Elijah. God taught Elijah that he, God, is not in windstorms, earthquakes or fires, but in the gentle whisper that heals.

We live in a physical world.

“Natural disasters,” said the 12th century sage Moses Maimonides, “have no explanation other than that God, by placing us in a physical world, set life within the parameters of the physical. Planets are formed, earthquakes occur, and sometimes innocents die.”

What do we do about it?

A better question than asking why this happened is – What can we do about it? “That is why, in temples, churches and mosques, along with our prayers for the injured and grieving, we ask people to donate money to assist the work of relief.”

We become God’s partners in healing.

“Our response is not to seek to understand and thereby accept,” says Rabbi Sacks. Instead we are the people God has called on to be God’s partners. We can say, ‘God, I do not know why this disaster happened, but I do know what you want of me: to help the suffering, comfort the grieving, send healing to the injured and aid those who have lost their livelihoods and homes.’ ”

We imitate God’s love and care.

“After an earlier flood, in the days of Noah, God made God’s first covenant with humankind. Genesis records** that God had seen ‘a world filled with corruption and violence’ and asked Noah to institute a social order that would honor human life as the image of God. Not as an explanation of suffering but as a response to it.

The covenant of human solidarity

“In our collective sadness for any type of disaster, we renew the covenant of human solidarity. Having seen how small and vulnerable humanity is in the face of nature, might we not also see how small are the things the divide us, and how tragic to add grief to grief?”  

*1 Kings chapter 19, verses 9-13. **Genesis 6:11

Tweetable: Be ready to talk with kids when they ask about disasters, human suffering, and hardships. Bullet points here guide you. Click to Tweet

Kids’ spiritual conversations can be downright exciting!

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.)


Sample questions to build childhood spiritual development

I get to drive one of the children in my extended family (age 6) to her weekly ballet class. It’s fun to have a few minutes each week of one-on-one time with her. I try to think of one question that might lend itself to a spiritual—or heart—conversation, amid the funny or imaginative chatter in the car.

This afternoon I think I’ll ask her, “What did you do to help someone today?”

Several years ago, the Barna Group published an incredible statistic. It found that less than 10% of families have spiritual conversations in the home. This includes families who are a regular part of a faith community!

One real practical action

Here’s a practical action we adults can take to contribute to childhood spiritual development. Ask a question that makes them think, and search themselves for an answer. “What do you think heaven looks like?” (or “If there’s such a thing as heaven, what do you think it looks like?”) With a question like this, Glennon Doyle says:

“[Kids] are looking inside to see what they’ll find and as soon as they find it: there it is – their hands fly up and they say: “I know I know!!” And then they pull something out of themselves that they didn’t even know was there. Look! Look what I found inside of me! And we smile or nod, and either way we are saying: wow, that is so cool. I didn’t even know [you imagined] that. I didn’t know that about you!”

Sometimes the reason we don’t know what’s going on in each other’s lives is that we don’t ask.

Possible questions:

  • Who helped you today?
  • If you could change anything about me, what would it be?
  • Who in your class seems lonely?
  • What is something you know how to do that you could teach others?
  • If you could switch places with one friend for a day, who would it be?
  • What is something you’ve always wanted to ask me?

 Tweetable: Step up your efforts to strengthen a child’s spiritual development this year. It takes planning, but not much planning, and an opportunity for 1 and only 1 thoughtful question. More here. Click to Tweet