As children grow, we mark their progress in a number of ways. We mark their height on the wall. We post their report cards on our refrigerator. We place their most recent school photo on our mantel. As these milestones pass, we share our joy with our family and friends.
In the same way, we would like to share our joy with you as we mark a new milestone in our development.
Since our inception in 2013, Child-centered Spirituality has been focused on sharing content with our readers that is relevant and meaningful, creating opportunities for conversation on the topic of spirituality as it relates to children.
Child-centered Spirituality has grown since then, and we are now on our way toward publishing our first book, Child-centered Spirituality: Helping children develop their own spirituality.
Whether you are a parent, family member, teacher, mentor, or friend, you likely have opportunities in your “world” to encourage a child’s spirituality. By opening yourself up to their world — listening, asking questions, and sharing your insight — you honor the spirituality that already lives within them and helps them to establish their own sense of values and beliefs about themselves, others, and God.
Our blog, and our soon-to-be-released book, is geared to help you do just that.
Late last week you may have received an email notification from our site stating “Hello world!”
Although we didn’t expect that to be sent (thanks technology!), it has provided a perfect opportunity to re-introduce ourselves to you and invite you to explore our freshly updated website.
Read more about our new book and sign up to be one of the first to be notified when it is available here. As our thank you, you’ll receive our downloadable PDF “Why Childhood Spirituality Matters: Top five benefits for kids who are given opportunities to connect with God.”
Thank you for being a part of Child-centered Spirituality!
Set aside the natural tendency to lecture or say “I told you so” when a child makes a choice and finds out afterwards it wasn’t such a great one. Thinking about how the choices they make turn out in the end is an important part of decision-making.
Evaluating the results means that after all is said and done, kids stop and think about their choice:
- Was it a good one?
- Am I happy with the results?
- Would I do the same thing again in a similar situation?
Their answers to the questions above will direct us toward our next move:
- Celebrate the wise choices they made OR
- Learn good things from the unwise ones
Celebrate wise choices
Making wise choices is hard work, and children deserve to celebrate when they make one. They can:
- Tell someone in the family or text their best friend.
- Put a sign on their dog and parade him around the neighborhood.
- Write about it in their diary or journal.
- Hug somebody.
It’s especially important to celebrate when they chose to do something risky or new and it turned out well. Even if it was a little thing like cleaning their room without being told or not getting mad when they lost a game… don’t forget to celebrate!
Learn good things from unwise choices
Sometimes children realize they made a mistake. Making mistakes does not feel very comfortable, so they want to blame someone, throw a tantrum, withdraw and feel too ashamed to talk to anyone, or try to hide it by lying about it.
It is OK to say they made an unwise choice!
We can offer them the opportunity to talk about their choice and guide them to identify a more helpful choice for future situations. We’re looking to strengthen responses like these in the child:
- I didn’t make a very good choice that time. I’ll choose something different next time.
- Everyone makes mistakes once in a while.
- When you’re growing up, it takes time to learn how to make good decisions.
- Sometimes the only way we really learn is by making a choice and then finding out it wasn’t such a great one after all.
- I can ask for help because talking about my mistakes is the best way to learn from them.
These are grace-giving responses, and grace is a spiritual quality.
One of the greatest gifts we can give children is permission to make mistakes with the full assurance that we will not “go away” physically or emotionally. Grace is God’s way of giving us room to grow. It is the assurance that no matter what happens, all our imperfections are accepted. Grace is the antidote to shame, enabling us to see mistakes as opportunities to grow rather than opportunities for self-criticism.
The choices we make from day to day set the direction our lives will take.
The C.H.O.O.S.E. tool takes time and practice to become a skill. The steps will feel awkward and uncomfortable at first. But as you work through each step with the child, identifying options and choosing from among them becomes an automatic response to the situations they face each day.
Relax with it and have a good time together as you learn to C.H.O.O.S.E.!
(The CHOOSE tool was developed by my friend Linda Sibley, who is happy to share it.)
- A great opportunity to help kids make wise choices happens after the choice has been made. Here’s why. Click to Tweet
- The choices we make from day to day set the direction our lives will take. A simple teaching tool here. Click to Tweet
Guilt is generally a negative term. It’s a feeling heaped on us by others that makes us feel bad and decreases our emotional health. Some of us also heap guilt upon ourselves. It weighs us down.
Is there ever a place for guilt?
Is it ever helpful? I would say yes– and I might consider renaming it “conscience” or “healthy guilt” when it comes from the internal guidance system inside us as opposed to being heaped on us from others.
A working moral compass makes children stronger
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.
There’s a place for sadness over what we have done
When a criminal has been convicted, we watch to see if they feel remorse– sadness for what they have done. That is guilt… a healthy response to one’s own wrongdoing. When someone feels no guilt for obvious and severe wrongdoing, society considers them a sociopath.
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?
I welcome ideas from readers as I am thinking through this issue.
Is there such a thing as healthy guilt? Is there ever a place for guilt in childhood? Click to Tweet
Sooner or later, every child sees trouble coming into life. Things go wrong. When their questions come up, this perspective– written in a child’s vocabulary– may help you talk about it.
Even as a young child you feel anger, disappointment, grief, pain, loss. You might not like the design of your body, the parents you got or didn’t get. You are surprised when you first learn that adults aren’t always fair or kind. You are sad when the people who are supposed to keep you safe don’t do their job. You feel helpless when bad things happen or no one listens to you.
God understands everything you feel inside.
He is always with you. He brings you comfort by being right there with you and never leaving you alone.
So why doesn’t God make it go away?
He is powerful and he could make people do what’s right. He could make people stop. He could see to it that everyone has enough food and a home to live in.
Yes, he could, if he wanted to control people’s lives. He would have to eliminate choice so that no one ever chose to do wrong or make trouble again.
What kind of world would this be if God forced people to do right?
Or insisted that they feel happy all the time? Wouldn’t God become the dictator of the whole world? What kind of person would you be? Your freedom would be gone. You could not make choices.
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. Remember that in your troubles you have God who shares them with you. You can put complete trust in God’s intention to bless you, not harm you.
Try a different perspective when kids ask why God doesn’t stop trouble. Click to Tweet
From our earliest years and throughout our lives, hunger of body and hunger of spirit are mingled together.
We know a lot about satisfying physical hunger in children with food, but less about satisfying their spiritual hunger. In the first year of life food goes toward the body’s growth. When the child starts to walk and talk it goes into fuel for physical activity. Throughout life food continues to be essential and without it, life is not sustained.
Yet what do we know about feeding the human spirit?
Around the time that babies begin to walk and talk, their human spirit has been developing to where they now seek satisfaction through curiosity about the world. In another year or so they show an ability to believe in things they can’t see, and the tendency to live entirely in the moment. We feed their spirit when we promote growth in any of these tendencies.
Kids are innate spiritual beings.
“Young kids have an incredible sense of wonder — they’re innate spiritual beings,” says Marianne Neifert, a pediatrician, mother of five, and author.
Feed their spirit with nature.
A caregiver can feed that spiritual sense of wonder by the abundant resources provided in nature. Haven’t we all seen inexplicable joy when a toddler encounters water? I watched my two-year-old grandniece fill her pink plastic pail with water in the ocean, run quite a distance to where her big brother was building a sand castle, dump it out as per his instructions, return to water’s edge to wait for the incoming wave and repeat the ritual for almost an hour.
The beauty, power and order of nature are at the same time a feast for the child’s senses and a spiritual experience.
[Due to the holiday today in the US, I’ve re-posted a popular previous entry.]
- From our earliest years and throughout our lives, hunger of body and hunger of spirit are mingled together. Click to Tweet
- The beauty, power and order of nature are at the same time a feast for the child’s senses and a spiritual experience. Click to Tweet
I appreciate the man in Zeitlarn, Germany who wrote me earlier this month to tell me about a book summarizing the findings of an increasing number of studies in child psychology that support child-centered spirituality. One description in the book states:
“Scientific experiments conducted with children across the globe illustrate the ways human beings develop complex beliefs about God’s omniscience, the afterlife, and the immortality of deities. How the developing brain grapples with these and other questions leads children, across cultures, to naturally develop a belief in a divine power of remarkably consistent traits.”
Dr. Justin Barrett, in his book Born Believers: The Science of Children’s Religious Beliefs, offers a compelling argument for the human instinct for religion. His research (and that of other scientists), supported by The John Templeton Foundation, shows how the science of childhood religiosity reveals across humanity a “natural religion,” the organization of the beliefs that humans gravitate to organically, and how it underlies all of the world’s major religions, uniting them under one common source.
Since my blog is in no way a scientific study, all the more reason to pass along scientific research to readers who may be interested. This blog is closer to a meditation on the ways in which infancy and childhood can be seen through a spiritual lens so that adults continue to address all the needs–physical, mental, emotional and spiritual–of the children they love.
- Scientific research continues to validate child-centered spirituality – Click to Tweet
- The science of childhood religiosity reveals, across humanity, a “natural religion.” – Click to Tweet