We all recognize that there is a spiritual aspect of life that needs to be addressed if our child is to obtain true happiness. This aspect to our being is abstract in nature and as a result difficult to address. Because of this difficulty parents either do not address this part of a child's growth or they try to force their belief on their child. Using the first approach does not address the issue, using the second results in family battles revolving around religion. As an alternative, here are some suggestions that may be of value:
· Parents will have an easier time helping their growing, curious child develop spiritually if they recognize, value, and refine their own philosophy of life. When parents understand and can share their thoughts on what gives life meaning, they provided the child with a spiritual "base" on which to develop their own belief system.
· Because small children think concretely they do not need complex explanations or answers to their questions. If a child asks where paper comes from, we answer simply, "Trees are used to make paper." This is usually enough for the child. If a child asks where do we go when we die, a simple answer, "We go to a very special place." They will fill in the rest of the details as they grow. You may explain other spiritual concepts as follows: “We can't see the wind but we know it is there. This is what God is like.” “Paris is a beautiful city a long ways from here where people exist but we can't see them. This is what Heaven is like.” “When we talk on the phone the other person can hear us even though we can't see them. This is what prayer is like.” “When you friend hits you but you still like them. This is what love is.” “When you do something wrong and Mom and Dad still love you. This is what God's Love is like.”
· Involve your child in the meetings, routines, and rituals that are part of your religious activities. Spiritual growth is not a process that is done in isolation of others. Becoming proficient at something requires contact with others who are experienced and knowledgeable. If you want your child to become a good cook you provide experiences that place them in contact with people who cook. Children learn about religion and spirituality by being with those who are participating in religious activities.
· Provide family religious experiences for your children. These experiences can include family discussions, daily prayers and/or scripture reading as a family. You may want to take family vacations that include visits to religious sites. You can plan family lessons on religious topics like "The reason we celebrate Christmas.” Stories, poems, and songs can also play a big role in these events.
· Family traditions are also important. These can include a birthday cake at Christmas, setting up a nativity scene in your house each Christmas, the coloring of eggs on Easter, having a meal like the Pilgrims had on Thanksgiving, giving secret gifts to friends at Christmas, or celebrating special religious events in your child's life.
When the child becomes older they may rebel against or resist believing as the parents believe. This process can be very frustrating to the parent with a strong religious conviction. Knowing where you stand, living your religion, being patient, and having faith in your child are the ingredients needed to make it through this time of experimentation.
Even if they do not rebel against the parents belief system, older children may resist going to church with their parents. Anxious parents would like their child to at least be exposure to their way of thinking about religion. But trying to force a teen to attend to attend church doesn’t work and results in bad feelings between the parent and the child. A better approach might be to communicate with the child in this manner, “You want me to assist you by letting you use the family car. I know you can get along with out it but that you would like to have it available when you need it. I also would like you to help me out. I want to make sure that you are aware of the advantages of attending church. If you will meet my needs by attending church I will help you meet your needs by letting you use the family car when it is not needed for family business.” Using this approach is a way to meet the child's needs and meet the parent's needs at the same time.
Developing spiritually and religiously is a process that takes place inside the child and cannot be forced. But if you have developed a strong philosophy of life there is no way to hide this thinking from those you love. If they see how valuable you religion/spirituality is to you, they will at least consider making it part of their life also.