Many times, a personal story sheds a brighter light on the subject than moralizing. Rather than telling a child facing a question or decision what to do, telling them a story from your own life can be much more helpful. It helps them think creatively and gives them the confidence that they can come to their own solutions.
When children raise questions, our ideal response is to hear them out and invite more dialog. Lisa Miller uses something like: “You bring such important questions to the family;” or “When I was a child I wondered that, too. I am so happy you are sharing these thoughts with me.”
Consider what spiritual stories you can tell the children in your life.
A friend of mine (mother of three teens) who does this says, “It could be about a time you failed, a time you needed God, a time you doubted God, a time you were surprised by something you couldn’t explain, a time when you sensed God communicating something to you. And consider what beliefs of yours came out of these experiences.”
Questions to help adults remember our spiritual stories we can share with kids:
- What beliefs define your decision-making process?
- What do you believe about how you will relate to people? Strangers, enemies, wrongdoers, immediate family, etc.
- How do you relate to God?
- When have you had times of doubt when God felt very far away?
- What/who are your trusted sources that informed your spiritual progression, growth and wisdom?
- What gives your life purpose and meaning?
- How did you arrive at your present spiritual place?
Our spiritual stories don’t have to be noble or positive. The power comes from it being real and being yours.
Note: Some of the ideas for questions were inspired by Tom Rapsas on StoryCorps.
- Tell kids your spiritual story. They’re still forming a moral compass and our experiences inspire. Click to Tweet
- Seven questions here that help adults remember our spiritual stories we can share with kids.
After five years of interviewing adults about their childhood spiritual experiences, I’ve seen common threads. Here’s one: As children, they didn’t have the vocabulary to express how they were processing spirituality and God. Can’t you see it in what this man told me?
“I remember I was four or five years old and feeding white ducks bread crumbs from the top of a playground slide. It seemed very wonderful to me for some reason and I dreamed about it and I can still see myself doing it. My thoughts couldn’t have been very abstract or sophisticated or articulated in any vocabulary I had at the time, but I felt I was in the presence of something greater than myself, in a world beyond the surface world where I was tossing down food onto the white ducks and feeling very whole, free, peaceful.”
That it, isn’t it? Children can’t articulate with the vocabulary they have at the time.
But we can help children build a spiritual vocabulary. We use the same methods we did when we taught them basic vocabulary words.
When they learned animal names, we had picture books of animals, “Where’s the bird? What does the bird say?” And when we went outdoors, “See the bird? Hear the bird?”
Use children’s literature to teach spiritual vocabulary.
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. 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.
There’s no need to bottle it up inside.
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 no need to bottle it up inside, they will talk freely and listen to others, thus understanding how normal and widespread is the spiritual dimension of life.
- Ideas to help children build a spiritual vocabulary by the same method you taught them basic vocabulary. Click to Tweet
- Children don’t know the words to use to express their spiritual experiences. See some ideas here. Click to Tweet
3rd in a series about a valuable, simple tool for teaching kids decision-making. The tool is C.H.O.O.S.E. and today’s big idea is to know and follow moral principles. A kid’s morals become their treasure chest of wisdom and guidance.
A child’s treasure chest
A child’s treasures can include their most special toys, a ribbon or trophy won at a swim meet, photos of the most special people and times in their lives. Many of a child’s treasures wouldn’t bring very much money if sold, but they bring something much more valuable: reminders of the best parts of the child’s life. A child’s morals are treasures of great value.
Conversation Starter: A camping story for kids
Imagine you are in the woods camping with your family, having a great time. In fact, you are having so much fun you don’t realize you are wandering deeper and deeper into the woods. Suddenly, it’s dark and you realize you’re lost! Now it’s very dark and you can’t see anything! How do you feel? (scared, alone) After awhile, you look up and see a light coming toward you. You hear your dad calling your name! You go toward the light until you meet your parents, and all of you follow the path back to camp. Now how do you feel? (relieved, safe) You were safe because the light showed you where to go in the darkness!
Four ethical questions can be like a light to children when they’re making a decision:
- Will it hurt me or someone else? If your brainstorming list of options includes ones that will hurt you, cross them off. Same with an option to hurt someone else—hitting, telling lies about them, stealing their things. You can find other ways to deal with your decision.
- Is there something beyond my control? That’s a real important question, because many times the choice we want to make is not within our power. For example, if your parents are getting a divorce, your first choice would probably be to have them get back together. But that is a choice your parents must make and is completely beyond your control. As hard as it may be, you need to cross it off your list of choices.
- How does it feel inside? If a choice feels wrong, cross it off your list. Be careful, though. Some choices may feel uncomfortable, but deep down inside we know they are wise—like choosing to tell the truth instead of covering up with lie. That’s different from feeling uncomfortable because we know it’s wrong—like letting your friend talk you into shoplifting, or letting someone touch you in ways you don’t want to be touched.
- Who can help me choose? Keep a list of people you can talk to whenever you feel confused or just don’t know what to do. (Some kids may include prayer or religious teachings sources of help.)
(Linda Sibley designed the CHOOSE tool and she is excited I’m sharing it here.)
- A child’s morals are treasures of great value, especially when used to make decisions. Read more. Click to Tweet
- 4 moral questions kids can use when making a difficult choice. Read more. Click to Tweet
My friends Laura and Mamitte (not their real names) were having coffee at Mamitte’s apartment while their 7-year-old boys and a neighbor boy played in the courtyard. Mamitte walked out to check on them and discovered that they had smashed a bunch of snails. She said to them, “Oh, I am so saddened by this,” and returned to the apartment to figure out, along with Laura, what to do about it.
What’s really important, they decided, is the greater lesson of how we treat creatures.
When both women went outside, the boys began to play “he said/she said” about who actually smashed and who watched. But Mamitte asked them if they were willing to gather the snails’ bodies and put them to rest in God’s earth. The boys said they were willing to participate.
They gathered the snails’ bodies.
As they did, they had time to process and look at what they had actually done. They then put the snails in the specified resting place.
Mamitte asked them if they wanted to say something.
- Ethan said, “We ask God to forgive us for how we treated the snails.”
- Raul said, “And forgive me for not protecting them.”
- Logan sang a little song and said, “And that God would give them a home and love them in heaven.”
Then they all said Amen.
The moms decided to take it one step further.
Because the snails had been smashed all over a long bench in this courtyard where everyone sits, Mamitte got out rags and a cleaning solution to disinfect the bench and brought those out to the boys.
As they sat on the ground, scrubbing different parts of the bench, they bounced ideas back and forth to each other. It was all Mamitte and Laura could do to keep their mouths shut (a very important parenting skill).
The boys figure it all out on their own.
- One says, “Gosh, I don’t want to be doing all this WORK right now. This is so much WORK and we could be playing.”
- Another says, “Well, that’s what happens when we make bad choices.”
- And as they’re going back and forth, the third boy says, “I. will. never. do. this. again.”
Those are the huge connections that we want–
- They are experiencing the consequences of their actions.
- The heart issue, the core of it, is that we shouldn’t treat other beings like that.
The two moms celebrated silently, standing behind the boys so they couldn’t see.
When they returned to their coffee cups in the apartment, they asked each other, “How did we do that—It worked so effectively?!”
Here’s what they came up with:
- Our parenting was not reactive. Laura said, “My first instinct had been to take my son, rip him out of the courtyard, put him in the car and say, ‘Well, if you’re going to act that way over here, we can’t be over here.'”
- We asked if they would be willing. Mamitte said to Laura, “When you approached them and stopped the bickering, you asked if they would be willing to gather the snails’ bodies. I was shocked, thinking, “I can’t believe she’s asking them because they aren’t going to do it.” And they all chose it! It wasn’t anything forced.
- We found a teachable moment. Natural consequences are often the teachable moments. We guided them, we didn’t punish. We invited them to take responsibility to care for the snails’ bodies.
Tweetable: See how three boys increase in respect for all creatures at a memorial service for snails. Click to Tweet
If there is one thing that will ruin children’s lives, it’s greed. Teach them how to pull the plug on greed and you will have prepared them to thrive in the real world. –Mary Hunt
Mary Hunt, the “Everyday Cheapskate” offers timely advice, condensed here, on one aspect of character development.
Greed is the feeling of desire, of wanting everything you can think of.
Greed is like a very bad disease. It starts small and if allowed to grow it will take over your life. Greed will make you miserable. It causes temper tantrums and makes people self-centered and arrogant. It is very sneaky.
Children know that twinge of envy when their best friend shows a new phone. Or says really loud at lunch that Dad is buying a new car for their graduation gift. Multiply that feeling by 10 and you’ll have a good idea of what full-blown greed feels like. It is not good.
Greed is hazardous to their futures.
The problem with greed is that it drives us to do things that are hazardous to our futures. Greed says it is OK to have everything we want now and to figure out how to pay for it later. Greed is something every child has to deal with and the sooner you can show a child how to defeat that enemy the better off and happier the child will be.
The antidote for greed is to be thankful for what you already have.
You prove your gratitude when you are willing to give away part of your resources. Everyone, no matter how young or how poor, has time, talent and possessions.
When children give to others it helps them to be grateful for what they have.
- Help a younger child to read.
- Visit senior citizens at a care facility.
- Clean up and bring toys you don’t play with to a shelter or hospital.
- Regularly give part of your allowance to a charitable or religious organization.
If you want to make sure your children are never defeated by greed, show them how to be givers.
Tweetable: Greed is like a very bad disease.If allowed to grow it will take. Here’s an antidote for your kids. Click to Tweet