This post was written in response to Rochester MN Moms Blog‘s post, Raising Children Without Religion. After sharing that perspective on our social media, we knew it was only appropriate for us to also share the other side of the discussion with our readers. We understand that this conversation has many sides, many opinions, and many different facets. It is our goal to represent as many of our readers as possible on our blog.
“Mom, I was playing outside and I just realized, God is everywhere! He’s all around me! And He loves me so much,” my four year old exclaimed as she ran inside from playing in the sandbox. Normally very active and outgoing, she had spent a whole day of contemplation, quietly drawing pictures and playing in solitude outside, drinking up the beauty of nature. It seemed that she was experiencing something beyond herself.
“God loves me no matter what, and He’s always going to be with me,” she continued. I listened, surprised by her ability to have this realization at such a young age. She smiled, “Mom, can you pray with me?”
Spirituality is defined as thoughts, feelings, and behaviors related to a concern about, a search for, or a striving for understanding or relatedness to the transcendent (Hill et al 2000). While some would argue with me on this, I believe the need to relate to a spiritual being is deeply ingrained in us from the very beginning. It’s part of our makeup. Even at a young age, as children experiment with the world, they begin to search for answers to life’s problems. They begin to ascribe meaning and search for purpose.
Empirical research affirms the importance of the practice of spirituality as a contributor to overall wellness. People who engage in regular spiritual practices tend to live longer, cope better with life’s stress, and have improved physical functioning during recovery from illness.
So how do we facilitate healthy spirituality with our children? Here are 6 ways.
1. Nurture a love for nature. Encourage your children to spend time outside. Teach them to appreciate the beauty of their natural surroundings. Using mindfulness techniques, allow them to experience nature with their senses and feel connected to the world around them.
2. Love and serve others. We want our kids to know that life is not just about them. And whether you’re an Atheist or a Christian or somewhere in between, we can all agree that the world needs a little more love. This article by one of our contributors highlights several ways to teach your children to give back.
3. Read faith-related or inspirational literature. Children and adults alike learn through the narratives of others. Read together before nap time, bed time, or during dinner. Discuss things like kindness and gentleness and why it’s important to exhibit these characteristics.
4. Care for your body. The soul and mind are not the only mediums involved in spirituality; the body is as well. Exercising, eating healthy, and practicing relaxation techniques can be spiritual practices too. Do these things with your kids and talk about the importance of them.
5. Pray/meditate. Prayer and meditation are ancient spiritual practices. Take the time to meditate or pray with your children throughout the day. It can be as informal as reserving a few quiet moments to think about peace and gratitude. It can also be formal in the reciting of traditional prayers.
6. Nurture friendships. Practice spirituality by engaging with others. Attend church or a place of worship. Meet together in a small group to study and share a meal. Gather your people together and discuss what’s important to you. Enjoy each other and encourage one another!
What about you? What are some ways you practice spirituality with your child?
This article is written with spirituality as a social-psychological phenomena in mind. It is also influenced by my own Christian beliefs.