According to some experts, spirituality can help kids make their way through life. Having a spiritual grounding can help kids deal with crisis, resist peer pressure, and avoid negative influences such as drugs and alcohol. It can also help foster better relationships with parents and keep kids focused on academic achievement.
You may also reap the rewards later in life. One study showed the more often adult children attended religious services, the more likely they were to provide assistance to their parents as they aged. They also had better relationships and were in more frequent contact compared to adult children who attended services less often.
Knowing how to teach faith can be tough. This is especially true for adults who grew up without a spiritual education, who married someone of a different religion, or who do not feel comfortable with traditional religious teachings.
Often, though, what keeps people from assuming the role of family spiritual leader are misconceptions about what spirituality is and how to convey it to children.
Myth #1: Spirituality and Religion Are the Same Thing.
One of the most prevalent misconceptions about spirituality is that it is synonymous with religion. Spirituality is about living life connected with all living things and embracing new experiences with wonder, gratitude, and humility.
Religion is more about community, rituals, and shared support. Religion ties spirituality with other concepts. One who is spiritual may not necessarily be religious. People who practice one way or the other may apply the same practice, but they apply it in different ways.
Whether you practice a traditional religion or whether your idea of spirituality leans toward the need to respect the earth, you can still convey your ideas to your children. What is important is not the label you give it, but the connection to something larger than yourself. Sometimes that connection can add perspective to life, making it easier for kids to deal with life's big and small problems.
Myth #2: Kids Do Not Really Care About This Stuff.
At a very young age, kids start asking the same philosophical and existential questions that people have asked for millennia. Kids are genuinely interested and concerned about these questions.
Do not underestimate your children's curiosity; just as sure as they are going to one day ask why the sky is blue, they are going to wonder what happens when we die, where we came from, and why the world works the way it does.
Myth #3: I Do Not Know All the Answers, so Why Even Bring up the Topic?
Children, especially young ones, are notorious for asking all kinds of questions, including unanswerable ones. When it comes to issues of faith, though, you do not need all the answers. In fact, helping your child to sort things out independently can be more important than knowing the right response to their various queries.
It is more important to establish spiritual dialogue, which means not only sharing your beliefs, but also asking your child about his or hers.
Turn the questions around. Get them to think about these issues. Think of your role as parent as not the supplier of answers, but as the provider of a language about which you can discuss faith-oriented topics. Keep an open mind during the dialogue. The conversation is more important than determining what is perceived as right or wrong.
Myth #4: It Is Too Hard to Teach Young Children Abstract Concepts.
Any parent knows that when explaining tough concepts to kids, it is best to keep things in simple terms. While it can be difficult to simplify concepts like faith and spirit, our actions are more important than our words.
To teach a child to live a spiritual life, parents should start with themselves. Examine your own beliefs and faith and ask the tough questions. Why do you think we are here? What are your beliefs regarding God or a creator? How should we treat each other? What values are important in your life? How can you demonstrate these on a daily basis?
Rather than teaching grand lessons about life and philosophy, it is more effective to use the little moments to guide your children. Do not overlook the power of gratitude. Something as easy as listing the gifts in your life or saying a simple thank you before a meal can be a spiritual experience.
Forgetting About Perfection
Regardless of your own upbringing or current beliefs, you can give your child the gift of a spiritual upbringing. And, like most areas of parenting, you do not have to be perfect. Fostering the relationship is what is most important.
Good M, Willoughby T. Institutional and personal spirituality/religiosity and psychosocial adjustment in adolescence: Concurrent and longitudinal associations.. J Yough Adolesc. 2014;43(5):757-774.
How can spirituality affect your family's health? Kids Health—Nemours Foundation website. Available at: http://kidshealth.org/parent/emotions/feelings/spirituality.html. Updated August 2014. Accessed June 29, 2017.
King V, Ledwell M, et al. Religion and ties between adult children and their parents. J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci. 2013;68(5):825-836.
The difference between spirituality and religion. Spirituality & Health Magazine website. Available at: http://spiritualityhealth.com/articles/difference-between-spirituality-and-religion. Accessed June 29, 2017.
Ways to nurture spirituality in kids without going overboard. Dr. Prem website. Available at: http://drprem.com/parenting/ways-nurture-spirituality-kids-without-going-overboard.html. Accessed June 29, 2017.
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