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.

How a kid’s belief in God can calm fears

Trouble is here to stay, and with it, people’s right to think their own kind or cruel thoughts, feel their own hate or love, do good or bad. In our troubles, we have God who shares them with us.

Conversation starter:

trouble or happyMain idea: God stays with you in ugly situations. You can’t see God with your eyes, but God is there with you in times of trouble, and you’re not alone.

Meditation: “Do not be afraid and do not panic. For the Lord your God will personally go ahead of you. He will neither fail you nor abandon you.” Deuteronomy 31:6

Let’s talk: Describe a time when you were in a situation where only God could help you. What do you think God did in that moment?

Children ask, “Why are people mad at each other?”

mad demonstrationIf children are hearing news reports of recent national and international events, some of them want to talk about feeling upset by the anger and tension they sense between opposing groups.

Pediatricians, child psychologists and others make available solid advice to guide us through these conversations. We offer additional ideas if you choose to bring in the moral dimension.

Sometimes groups of people are mad at each other because…

  • They perceive that something is not right and, without moral concern, the world would be a dreadful place indeed.
  • They perceive that nothing is being done about the wrong. An important purpose for anger is to motivate us to take constructive action.
  • People are insensitive to their opinions and beliefs. Their most important opinions or beliefs are being shouted down or ignored. They’re afraid that harm is going to come to them and those they care about.
  • They cannot make other people change and they feel like they don’t have the power, energy or force to produce any effect or change.
  • What other reasons can you add to this list?

Know when to stand firm for your beliefs.

mad speak upAt times, people need to take a stand and do it publicly. They are ready to do this when they’ve learned how to remain composed when others do not share their convictions. Otherwise their public demonstrations can become belligerent and bitter and onlookers lose the message they intended to convey.

Being right can lead to being wrong.

It is possible to be so filled with good opinions that those opinions seem to justify unloving outbursts and actions. People become judgmental and rage, taking revenge, picking up weapons, or any other number of harmful acts.

Speak up with love

  • Hold firmly to your convictions while refusing to enter a power struggle. True assertiveness is anchored in the positive message you want to communicate, not in what’s wrong with the other group’s viewpoint.
  • Find balance when your anger is linked to a reasonable issue and you communicate it responsibly.
  • Aha! Parenting reminds us that “In a democracy, through a long and respectable history of peaceful protest and civil disobedience, change was created in the face of entrenched power structures.”

Tweetable: Ideas for responding to kids who are unsettled by their perception that people are so mad at each other lately. Click to Tweet

Communication with God can help kids regain optimism

communication roller coaster fear“My biggest fear used to be of heights. I never went on roller coasters. I was deathly afraid of ski lifts… I’m still afraid of heights. But this is no longer my biggest fear. For a year or two in high school, I guiltily admit that the zombie apocalypse was my biggest fear….As a college student, my biggest fear is a school shooting.” –Jennifer Jaklevic

Jennifer echos many students’ fears.

If a student looks to you for comfort, consider whether some of Molly Wigand’s ideas could be adapted in your conversation, along with the ideas from last week’s post.

communication prayerSpiritual Tool: Communication with God

God is the only one who understands everything you feel. Talk to God about your fears and in return you will receive peace of mind. That peace can guard your mind and heart from excessive worry. Return to God time and time again. God enjoys you and every conversation the two of you have.

“Since nobody really knows what death is like, a caring adult might want to introduce the idea of ‘heaven’ to the child,” suggests author Molly Wigand. “Many people believe death is the beginning of a brand-new life in a beautiful place called heaven.” One mom, whose 7-year-old boy prayed and asked God to show him about heaven, reports that when he woke up the next morning he told her he dreamed about heaven and he’s no longer afraid to go there.

Spiritual Tool: Communication with yourself and others

You can learn to face your fears and worries by talking to yourself. Tell yourself that you can handle it, and you will.”  Molly continues, “Teens can think about some of the fears they had when they were younger and feel proud for getting over those fears.”

Use your creativity to face your fears. Fears may look and feel less scary when a child puts them on paper. If teens fear a school shooting, they can use creative expression to depict the shooting scene, placing themselves in it and in safety.

Find a relaxing place

communication with GodMake a special place (in your bedroom, yard, etc.) to relax your mind and body. Do your breathing and feel yourself calming down. Imagine your favorite people all around you Imagine God protecting you with an umbrella of love.insert link

Talk with a trusted friend, parent or other adult. Sometimes when you realize you’re surrounded by others with similar feelings, your fears fade away. Ask them how they handle their fears. You might pick up a new tool to try.”

“Guide [young people] through the uncertainties of these complicated times and empower them to find courage and face their fears.” –Molly Wigand

Click to Tweet: Among the many spiritual resources available to kids is communication with God, others and one’s self.  Here are specific ideas to adapt as conversation starters with children. Click to Tweet

Sympathy and prayer–kids can see the connection

Our foster daughter Angie had the most sympathy of any person I’ve ever known. At age 14, her spontaneous, heartfelt expressions of sadness for someone else’s misfortune far surpassed my own.

man needs sympathy Angie and I had occasion to drive through some hardscrabble neighborhoods in Los Angeles County. From time to time we would see a man lying on the sidewalk and she would say out loud with great feeling, “Oh! Poor thing!”

Angie’s sympathy moved her to pray for hurting people.

Sometimes I’d ask her, “What is your prayer for this person?” Other times, Angie would say, “We should pray for that man,” and say a short prayer out loud (integrated right into our conversation) about her hope that he finds food today or a better place to sleep.

Prayer fosters a sense of security.

praying girl moved to sympathyIn his book Love in a Fearful Land, Henri Nouwen writes, “Prayer is the way to both the heart of God and the heart of the world.” Prayer is a word that describes a relationship.

Praise children for being willing to pray. They will sometimes pray things that you know are unrealistic or inappropriate. It is up to us to teach them a different way so that they gain trust in God’s goodness and sidestep the disillusionment (which sometimes lasts a lifetime) that God didn’t answer the prayer — God doesn’t care — God doesn’t even exist.

Prayer helps a child be calmer.

Prayer can be one action children take when they feel sympathy for strangers. Perhaps they see something like a car accident firsthand or hear upsetting national or world news. When you allow them to make a loving and prayerful response, you are helping the child be calmer. And reflect back to the child his or her admirable intention that some good comes to the stranger(s).

Tweetable:     Allowing kids to make a prayerful response to upsetting events helps them be calmer. Click to Tweet