Spiritual Development in Children

Monday, March 19, 2012

"Grown men may learn from very little children, for the hearts of little children are pure, and, therefore, the Great Spirit may show them many things which older people miss." ~ Black Elk, Native American spiritual teacher Children have a natural curiosity about spiritual matters, and may ask questions that adults don’t know how to answer. My own experience as the Children’s Minister at an Indianapolis church taught me that kids often ask such questions because they already have their own answer in mind. When a child asks you a tough question such as “where do we go when we die?” take a moment to pause. You don’t have to answer that question immediately. Instead, consider responding with: “That’s an interesting question. What do you think is the answer?” Listen carefully; you will learn a lot. Here are some other tips from Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat, authors of “Encouraging Children’s Spirituality.” Spiritual practices aren’t just for adults. Children come naturally to many of the time-honored ways that people use to get closer to the sacred; to family, friends, and community; and to the world around them. They can teach adults about being present, enthusiasm, imagination, play, and wonder—to name just a few. Here are some ideas for how parents and other adults can encourage children’s spirituality. • Give thanks before you eat, not just for the food, but also for everything that contributed to your having this meal--the earth, the rain, the sun, the farmer, the store, the cook, even the cooking equipment. Gratitude is an essential spiritual practice. • When watching television or a video, choose a favorite or interesting character and “step into the story” to see how you would act in his or her place. This exercise uses imagination and supports compassion for others and hospitality toward the media. • When doing chores, such as picking up toys or putting away the dishes, imagine that you are returning these things to their homes where they will be more comfortable. Reframing chores in this way teaches reverence for your surroundings, kindness, and nurturing. • Experiment with silence by lying on the ground for 15 minutes without saying anything. Pay attention to what you are thinking about. Then notice the reports of your senses of sight and smell. This is the practice of wonder. • Practice meaning by choosing symbolic names for your home and your room. • Create a party for your pet. Indulge the animal with a favorite treat or activity. Name some of the lessons you have learned from living with this teacher. • At bedtime, identify one good thing and one bad thing that has happened during the day. For children, these are times to practice enthusiasm and forgiveness. For parents, these are opportunities to practice openness and listening. • Have a moon-viewing party, complete with special food and costumes appropriate to the season of the year. Talk about the beauty of the natural world. Then imagine how the moon sees the world, an exercise that teaches connections and the unity of all Creation.

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