As parents, we want our children to develop strong faith that allows them to believe in goodness and kindness and family. Spirituality is a connection with a power that is higher than the self and that guides your values and creates a relationship with God that you turn to to derive strength from. But in a world where human connections are diminishing, how do you encourage children to have faith. Young children are especially open to spiritual truths. Their innocence, curiosity, and present-moment living often makes them more receptive to the workings of God. To build on this in your little ones, or to encourage your child’s spiritual life at any stage of development, here are some things to pay attention to as a parent:
• Help them find answers to the big questions. What happens when we die? Will our dog go to heaven? Why do we have to keep saying the same prayers if God has already heard them so many times? Why are we here? Children are often much better than adults at asking meaningful questions and pondering life’s biggest mysteries. It’s important to welcome these questions because they’re part of a child’s search for understanding, meaning, and identity. In some cases, we’ll have answers — even if imperfect or incomplete — and in other cases we won’t and we can say so. But if we welcome our children’s questions rather than brush them off or dismiss them, they’ll continue to seek and ask questions as they grow older, which is an important component of the spiritual life.
• Spend time in nature. Throughout the ages, saints, monks, and spiritual masters have sought and found God in forests, caves, mountains, deserts, and at sea. It is the same for all of us. Time in nature tends to quiet our minds, stirs our souls, and inspires reflection. Children are drawn to the natural world, so make sure they spend time there, even if it’s just in a local park. Point out the sights and sounds, the changes in seasons, the plants and animals. Talk about God as the Creator of it all, and how we are connected to this incredible, majestic world.
• Help them find beauty. Beauty isn’t only found in the natural world, but in great works of art around us — paintings, sculpture, architecture, music, film, novels, crafts, etc. If you live near any museums, make regular short trips with your kids. When walking or driving around, point out interesting buildings and monuments. Play a variety of beautiful music at home and in the car. Encourage the arts in your children’s education. There’s plenty of beauty to be found in everyday life, too — the birds that regularly come to the feeder in the backyard, the colorful bouquet of flowers in the store, a treasured heirloom, the impeccable presentation of a meal, the face of a new baby or beloved grandparent. When we teach our kids to be attuned to beauty, we are encouraging their spiritual life.
• Talk about God. As parents do we talk about God? Do we bring God into our daily conversations? Do we call upon God when we need help or inspiration? And do we do this aloud, in front of our children, as well as quietly in our own prayer time? Kids need to see that their parents have a relationship with God, and that we make regular efforts to grow in our own spiritual lives. Say your prayers together. Have a regular prayer time. Read holy scriptures or stories.
• Be comfortable with silence. It’s a noisy world and children today rarely experience quiet time. But knowing how to be comfortable with silence is important to a spiritual life. One of the best ways to help with this is to institute a quiet time each day where your kids must read or play quietly for a certain period of time. Once children have the ability to sit still for a few minutes, you can begin to teach them the basics of meditation by introducing them to ancient practices.
• Connect with others. Part of the spiritual life is being aware of our connection to other people and our call to care for each other. When children are exposed from a young age to the needs of others, they grow in empathy, charity, and gratitude. Depending on the age and sensitivities of your child, consider volunteer activities that allow you to serve others as a family.