Spiritual development is indeed a journey. Dr. James Fowler’s well-reasoned book, Stages of Faith, gives valuable resources for adults responsible for the spiritual development of children. How and when does faith develop? What should we know about the developmental stages?
I cannot improve on Maxine Handelman’s summary of Dr. Fowler’s empirical research into the spiritual development of children, so I offer you the “best of” here:.
What is faith development?
“Faith development is about making meaning of life’s significant questions, adhering to this meaning, and acting it out in his or her life span.Faith is a common pursuit and quest of all individuals. Faith development theory provides a place for God and religious ways of being without mandating them.”
How and when does faith develop?
“Faith formation occurs in relation to others. It can be in relation to parents, church-temple-mosque, [sacred texts], school, friends or any group of people with whom one interacts. Just as one’s intellectual abilities, motor skills and social behaviors change over the life span, so does one’s faith. Views of God will not remain the same. Faith can be nurtured, strengthened and enhanced.
What should we know about the developmental stages of faith?
- Stage 0 (birth to 2 years) — Early learning about the safety of their environment (i.e. warm, safe and secure vs. hurt, neglect and abuse). If consistent nurture is experienced, the child will develop a sense of trust and safety about the universe and God.
- Stage 1 (ages 3-7) — Faith is learned mainly through experiences, stories (including holy texts), images, and the people with whom the child comes in contact.
- Stage 2 (mostly in school children) — Children have a strong belief in justice and reciprocity. They experience God as almost always personal, with characteristics such as goodness, mercy, care and love.
- Stage 3 (arising in adolescence) — Characterized by the development of a personal identity and conformity to their faith community.
- Stage 4 (usually late teens to late thirties) — A stage of angst and struggle. The individual takes personal responsibility for his or her beliefs and feelings. As one is able to reflect on one’s own beliefs, there is an openness to a new complexity of faith.
Awareness of the general passages of faith can provide an anchor as we look back at our own lives, and look ahead to what children have in store.
Tweetable: Awareness of the general passages of faith development can provide an anchor as we guide children in theirs. Click to Tweet
My new book, Child-centered Spirituality: Helping children develop their own spirituality, is now available on Amazon – just in time for the holidays!
Where did Grandma go when she died?
Why doesn’t God stop bad things from happening?
Many parents have experienced a child asking difficult spiritual questions– usually at inopportune moments. While we stumble around trying to think of an answer, we feel inadequate… and sometimes startled by their questions. If you’re like most adults, you try your hardest to avoid thinking much about questions like these. So why on earth is a child asking you about them?
We talk with our children about the importance of school work, about physical health, about how to navigate social difficulties. We even talk with them about sex, drugs, and internet safety… or if we don’t, we know we should.
So why do we find it so difficult to talk with children about God?
Whether you are a parent, grandparent, teacher, foster parent, or other caregiver, this is a book to help you engage with the children in your life about their spiritual needs.