The Natural Spirituality of Children: Nurturing the Whole Child

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By: Sapna Fliedner MSN, HHC

It’s that time of year again: Santa Claus, crowded malls, toys, celebrations and shopping. This  can be the source of stress for a lot of people. In all of this chaos, it is easy for families to lose sight of the spiritual meaning of the season.  More and more parents are now taking the spiritual road by teaching their children about the deeper meanings of the holidays which teaches them messages for a lifetime.

Evidence suggests that children are naturally attuned to spirituality and that spiritual experiences at an early age provide the basis for long-term identity and purpose.

Psychologist Tobin Hart, author of The Secret Spiritual World of Children, states that children have ways of knowing that are outside of any ritual or training.  This includes a sense of love, compassion, awe and wonder, with moments of wisdom concerning what it means to be alive.  Hart is co-founder of the Georgia-based non-profit ChildSpirit Institute, which studies the spiritual life of children.

What exactly does it mean to be spiritual?  According to Dr. James Comer, author of Leave No Child Behind: Preparing Today’s Youth for Tomorrow’s World, it is all about respect for life, respect for the rights of others, and appreciation of the environment.  He states that we are all born with a potential for good or bad, and so it is important to teach children spirituality early in life.

The Benefits Of Spirituality For Children

Dr. Lisa Miller of Columbia University Teacher’s College points out that early spiritual experiences help children in dealing with crises, resisting peer pressure and avoiding negative influences like drugs and alcohol.  She adds that it does not matter which religion or spiritual path children follow; simply having a relationship with a higher being is the best protection they can have.  The connection with something larger than themselves makes kids more resilient to life’s troubles.

A study published in the Journal of Happiness Studies by psychologist Mark Holder shows that spiritual kids are happier and healthier.  They have a better sense of personal meaning and values, such as kindness and altruism.  These children also tend to have stronger relationships with others.  Dr. Michael Yi, who studied spirituality in children at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, states that these children have fewer problems with depression, self-esteem and physical ailments in their teen years.

How To Nurture Your Children’s Spirituality

In order to start nurturing spirituality in our children, we first have to “BE” before imparting these values on our children. We need to have a level of satisfaction in ourselves and an ability to manage our own lives first.  Children feel it when we are fake.  They imitate their parent’s relationships to the spiritual.

Spiritual values are constantly changing at every age; therefore, we need to adjust the conversation as children grow and develop. Spirituality can be quite an abstract topic for a small child to grasp.  A great book that I’ve found extremely beneficial to use when teaching my own kids spiritual topics is Deepak Chopra’s, “The Seven Spiritual Laws for Parents.” It basically breaks down spiritual topics to each age group starting with preschool and continuing to the teenage years in tangible concrete spiritual discussions with guidelines. I love this book!

We also have a spiritual study circle at least five times a week with our children, usually after dinner and before bedtime. This establishes a spiritual dialogue with the children and creates a platform for discussion with moments to create spiritual awareness.

We also use opportunities like sharing, thankfulness, trust and faith. For example, teaching your children about sharing their toys, time or talent with someone who needs it, like the sick or elderly, reinforces how good it makes the other person feel.  Not to mention when we help others, we are truly helping ourselves, as we are all connected.

Being thankful and grateful are also good rituals to establish the meaning of creation.  Teaching children to believe in themselves is the beginning of faith. They need to believe in their power to change the world around them for the better. We start our day with “I Believe in Me” , A Book of Positive Affirmations by Connie Bowen. We also read The Children’s Book of Virtues by William J. Bennett and The Children’s Book of Heroes.  These stories resonate with their natural sense of compassion and fairness. Finally, “The Family Virtues Guide” by Linda Popov is a must read.

Practicing meditation and yoga with your children is another great way to help them deal with stress and anxiety by providing harmony, balance and a way to control their feelings. Chants, mantra’s and prayers calm children and shifts their consciousness.  Another great book we use is Baby Buddhas by Lisa Desmond.

Higher levels of spiritual well-being were associated with fewer depressive symptoms and better emotional well-being, according to Dr. Michael Yi, who conducted the study of 155 youngsters, who were all struggling with the condition.  He found that one of the most important predictors of overall quality of life was having a good sense of spiritual well-being.

When it comes to instilling spirituality in your children, I believe it is never too early. Teach your babies, and toddlers. They may not understand mentally, but they will always feel your love and know that it is the true state of our being.  But truthfully, I believe children are great spiritual teachers themselves. Many parents have reported learning spiritual truths from their kids, whether infinite compassion, a sense of wonder at life’s miracles, patience or unconditional love.

 

Sources

Vaughn-Lahman, Len, “Nurturing the innate spirituality of preschoolers,” The Whole Child – http://www.thewholechild.us/integrative_/2007/03/spirituality_an.html

Foston, Nikitta A., “Teaching spirituality: give your children a lesson they can follow all year,” Ebony, found on BNet – http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1077/is_2_60/ai_n7577941/

Harper, Jennifer, “Children happy with spirituality,” The Washington Times – http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2009/jan/12/children-happy-with-spirituality/

 

 

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