If we strengthen children’s spirituality from an early age, then they won’t need to wait until middle age to realise that many of the answers come from within.
Many of us seek enlightenment or the spiritual path when we tire of consumerism and seek nourishment for our soul. My observation is that, when individuals hit the age of 40+ they start to seek spirituality or question: Why am I here? What is living in the now? What is my spirit and who am I really? What do I want from life?… and on it goes.
When we seek to or learn to live a spiritual life, we are learning to look inside of ourselves. Inside we find our ‘true self’ or ‘spirit’. Our spirit is the source of our happiness, self-confidence, power, and guidance. Our spirit is the true self.
The spiritual world of children
“A child raised with spiritual skills will be able to answer the most basic questions about how the universe works. They will understand the source of creativity both within and outside themselves. They will be able to practice non-judgment, acceptance and truth, and they will be free from crippling fear and anxiety about the meaning of life that is the secret dry rot inside the hearts of most adults.” [Deepak Chopra]
If we keep the minds of our children open to spirituality, they can only but show the traits we would hope to see in ourselves: love, compassion and service; honesty and authenticity; physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual clarity; wisdom and understanding; responsibility and discipline; tolerance and patience; serenity and personal freedom; faith, trust, and inner security; gratitude, humility, and willingness; hope, happiness, joy, and humour; connection with nature, and everyday life; living in the present moment; a sense of wonder and reverence to life; a sense of purpose and place in the universe.
Dr. Mollie Painton is a nationally recognised lecturer on play therapy and the spirituality of children. Over the past thirty years Dr. Painton has worked with spiritual boys and girls from diverse populations. In the role of friend, confidante, and helper it has become clear to her that all children are at least potentially spiritual, while many are astonishingly gifted. Her compelling and unique book Encouraging Your Children’s Spiritual Intelligence highlights that spiritual kids are:
- Messengers of love to the world
- Intimate with ‘truth’
- Wise beyond their ages and experiences
- Healers mending the wounds of loss, judgment, abuse, hate, indifference, disease, and violence
- Determined to unite all in love and peace
- Sensitive individuals with open hearts & minds
- Seeking to find one another
- Compassionate beings who feel the pain of others
- Hungering for a sense of belonging with all people
- Graced by the loving presence of spiritual companions, such as angels and others
- Refreshingly honest in their perspective on death
- Blessed with God-given gifts of intuition and ability to see beyond the ordinary
- Astounding teachers with healing messages
- In need of the support of spiritual partners
Sharing spiritual stories with our children
“… being spiritually illiterate can lead to increased feelings of purposelessness, disconnection, isolation and loneliness in the world.” [In Care of the Soul by Thomas Moore]
Stories that encourage spiritual participation, stories and meditations to calm the troubled or stressed youngster, and perhaps most importantly, stories to lighten the heart and renew the sense of belonging to the world are welcomed by many parents.
There is now a plethora of literature and even movies for adults seeking enlightenment or spiritual awakening, however children’s literature has traditionally centred on two types of tales – folklore and the Biblical tradition. The real intent behind exposing children to these tales was never truly for entertainment, but as part of their moral education. Their subject matter was carefully restricted to match the ethos of the day and many are now considered overly didactic and preachy.
Times have changed however, with the shift away from the traditional view to a more open-minded spiritual exploration of the various ways of living one’s life in harmony. Finally parents are seeking and finding entertaining and enlightening stories that are exposing spiritual grounding or awareness. These are helping children develop a much healthier balance of mind, body, and spirit, enabling them to respond better to life’s challenges.
In America and the United Kingdom, ‘spiritual’ or ‘New Age’ children’s books are in as much demand, as ‘New Age’ adult reading material and the trend continues in Australia. The classification ‘New Age’ brings interesting connotations to some. To me, it primarily means ‘a belief in oneself’ and it can signify a book with a greater focus on the spiritual and with less emphasis on a deity.
Children’s spiritual books can readily be described as ‘reading about the sacred in everyday life – in nature, at home, in the classroom, at work, at leisure, in relationships’. Such books aren’t about a religious practice. They are basic stories that explore the deeper meaning and connection in all aspects of life.
They are now no longer considered ‘niche’ but mainstream. Helping children develop a much healthier balance of mind, body, and spirit and enabling them to respond better to life’s challenges is no longer considered a topic just for adults. Fostering children’s spiritual awareness enriches their daily lives, nurtures their hopes and dreams, and increases capacity to create preferred futures.
Other ways to strengthen children’s spirituality
Reading is only one way of assisting children’s spirituality. Here are others that you might like to consider:
1. Share nature with children
Enthusiastically engaging children with nature in their earlier years can have a positive and deep effect on their spiritual development. From ‘Mother Nature’, children will learn that all life is connected. As they see the connection, children will begin to appreciate and respect themselves and the people around them.
Many parents have introduced nature-celebrating rituals into a child’s life. For instance, when the magpies start to warble they take time to honour the birds. Or, they have spring family parties celebrating the new growth underfoot. When lightning strikes, discussions around energy and light might be had. The possibilities are endless.
2. Encourage your child to share his or her dreams with you
By showing a genuine interest in your child’s dreams, the child will learn to value them. Encouragement to share will build their self-confidence and in turn create an optimistic and cheerful approach to life. By encouraging a child to share aspirations we are ultimately supporting them in believing and achieving them.
3. Encourage your child’s imagination and sense of wonder
Imagination is the most critical tool for inner development. It is important to acknowledge and give significance to your children’s fantasy and inventive play.
Children especially like secret places such as tents, tree houses, hidden gardens, and cardboard boxes (go back in your memory and I’m sure you’ll remember loving them too). And don’t forget imaginary friends! By using their imagination children are trying out different personas, which allows them to express their inner most feelings.
4. Listening to your child with full attention and concentration.
Young children may try to communicate, but quite often they are not heard and honoured. As is often the case, children will soon begin to guard their feelings and communication can become limited.
Take time out of each day to hear about a child’s joys, achievements, and frustrations. As adults we should remember that listening can be more important than speaking. If a child does not respond to the sit-and-talk time then try communicating through ‘art time’ – draw pictures while sitting together and talking together.
This activity only requires you to take a small amount of time each day to ponder with a child on the same three things:
- Something from the day that you each are thankful for
- Something from the day that you each are sorry for
- Something you each intend for tomorrow
5. Maintain regular rituals in your home even if you do not embrace a formal religion
These events will be meaningful expressions of your own spirituality and will encourage your child’s expressions as well. Rituals can be as simple as lighting candles on one day of the week and showing gratitude for all that is, blessing the food at dinner, or walking barefoot in the grass each morning and asking our angels to keep us grounded and protected. These family rituals and celebrations turn the ordinary into the extraordinary.
Nurturing your child’s spirituality by sharing spiritual stories, exposing them to nature, listening to them, helping them expand their imagination, encouraging their dreams and celebrating or creating rituals with them are gifts you can give them that will last their entire lives. In fact, this could be the most valuable legacy you leave your children.
In The Soul of Education, Rachael Kessler eloquently and succinctly put why nurturing our child’s spirituality is so important:
“The body of a child will not grow if it is not fed: the mind will not flourish unless it is stimulated and guided. And the spirit will suffer if it is not nurtured”.
Children take us back and forth on the continuum of discovery. When we nurture the spiritual world of children we may also understand our own greatest challenge, the unfolding of our spiritual selves.
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