French philosopher Pierre Theilhard de Chardin once penned the idea “We’re not human beings having a spiritual experience, we’re spiritual beings having a human experience.” In other words, our very beings are spiritual. Even if you may not feel like it, everything we do is in some way spiritual. It’s just a matter of seeing it that way. To me spirituality is defined simply as connecting with God, yourself and others.
Children seem to embody spirituality better than those of us who are older. They have a sense of wonder and awe at the everyday miracles of life. They take time to notice many things we adults may take for granted: worms and butterflies, clouds or a new flower. They ask questions about their role in the universe and how it all fits together.
In recent years, studies show many adults now consider themselves more “spiritual” than “religious.” Some choose to be part of a religious community to help express themselves spiritually, while others find it in the outdoors, or in meditation, for example. Regardless of your practice, encouraging a sense of spirituality in your child helps him to connect with something greater than himself resulting in the fostering of hope, faith and even a sense of optimism.
So how do you talk about and encourage your child’s spirituality? Here are some ideas:
Encourage a sense of gratitude:
Gratitude is a simple yet open-hearted attitude. When we are grateful, we show we are able to receive from another others. We acknowledge that we need people and appreciate their presence in our lives
Everyone likes being around someone who’s grateful versus someone who thinks they are “entitled” to things. Yet, it’s hard to feel content and not feel entitled when we are bombarded at every turn with things we’re told we “should” have.
Try this: Make a list with your child of 5 things for which you are grateful each day. (You’ll be amazed at how quickly an attitude of entitlement can change with this exercise.) Make it a competition. See who can come up with a longer list. Or, make a list of “needs” versus “wants”. What’s the difference in your two lists? Or when you go out shopping, be clear before you go in the store about what you intend to spend/not spend with your child. Or have your child use money her allowance to buy what she wants.
Practice Inner Awareness
It is a powerful experience to know what you are feeling at any given time, and yet so many of us go through life without any kind of awareness of what is going on in the moment.
In our house, we call a lack of inner awareness “not being in your body.” That catch phrase began one day when my 10 year old daughter was acting out. There was no point reasoning with her. She was way past that point. So I tried something I learned in a seminar. I told her to sit still and “go inside and see what was going on.” She looked at me as if I had just spoken to her in another language. But over the course of the next 30 minutes, I encouraged her to sit quietly and try to figure out what she was feeling and what she need to do about it. I checked in with her three or four times. After what seemed an excruciatingly long time, she finally told me she had been feeling lonely during the day and hadn’t known how to deal with it. Wow.
Fast forward a year later when she had a friend over. Something was clearly going on with her… I pulled her aside and quietly said, “Go inside and listen.” Later I asked, “What was going on for you this afternoon? You seemed a little out of sorts.” She thought and then confidently said, “I was feeling a little insecure and I wanted some attention, so I started making jokes and acting crazy.”
Wow. She really did get it.
Practicing inner awareness can reduce anxiety, increase productivity and self esteem. It may be as simple as learning to pay attention to your breath. You may be surprised at how relaxing it is!
Foster a Sense of Curiosity
Why do things work the way they do? How did that huge tree grow from such a small seed? Why did Johnny say something mean to me? When we encourage our children to be curious, we offer them the chance to take a beat and respond rather than react to life. Their sense of wonder is fed and their imaginations are given a chance to unfold and create something grand.
When I hear my child say, “I’m bored,” I take it as an invitation to invite her to jump into curiosity, to step back and see what’s going on. Where is she not feeling connected to what is going on in and around her?
Build on Your Community
We all know “it takes a village” to raise a child. Who are the important people in your child’s life? Family, friends, religious communities, neighbors, school officials, coaches, mentors, childcare givers are all intricately involved in the lives of our children and have influence over them. Their presence makes our lives and our children’s lives richer and fuller.
In our household, the members of our extended family all live several states away. It has been important to me to have some older adults take on the role of “surrogate grandparents” to my daughter. Fortunately, we were lucky enough to move in across from Dee and Lou several years ago. They check in on us, give my daughter a little spending money when we go on vacation and remember to bring her a souvenir when they go away. They are interested in her, and they let her know that she matters to them. What a gift.
Who are the people in your child’s extended community and what do they contribute to his life? What contributions does your child make in their lives? How do you let them know what they mean to your family?
Encourage Giving Back
Generosity and spirituality go hand in hand. When a person is full, they can’t help but overflow and give to others. And it feels good to give! Children can give of their time, their money and their creativity. I have seen children sell lemonade and baked goods for disaster relief. I have heard children sing their hearts out to comfort seniors in nursing homes. I have watched children touch and soothe animals who had been abandoned in shelters.
In these days of overscheduled lives, make sure to create time for your child to give back in a way which is meaningful to her. The result? You help her be a better person and contributor in society.
Finally, here are some questions to reflect upon together about spirituality:
What do you feel like when everything is quiet?
What kinds of thoughts go through your head when you’re alone?
Is there a special place you like to go to be alone? Where is it and why do you like it there?
Do you feel connected to your inner thoughts and feelings? If so, how do you show that connection?
Do you feel connected with other people? If so, how do you show that connection?