If you don’t belong to a church, yet want to bring spirituality into your children’s lives, here are some great tips for you.
What Does It Mean Exactly to Raise Spiritual Children?
Well, being spiritual can mean a lot of things, but it also includes things like community, quiet time, service orientation, nurturing a sense of gratitude, ritual, reflection, a sense of being part of something bigger, something awesome and important. We want to be able to answer our kids’ questions about God and the afterlife, and how we are connected to others. And if you don’t follow a particular religion, this may seem difficult, but it doesn’t have to be.
Why Is Spirituality Important For Children?
Having an understanding of something greater than ourselves enriches our lives and can do the same for our children, and does not require church or organized religion. While church can provide community, connection to others and other aspects of spirituality, there are plenty of ways to offer these things to our children if we cannot or do not want to take them to church.
You can set a moral compass without church by defining your family values. In order to do this you will have to know yourself (agnostic? lapsed Catholic? secular humanist?) so you can answer when your children ask “What do you believe?”
- “I believe God has many faces.”
- “I believe in kindness and helping other people, caring for pets and reaching out to people who are alone.” (provided by Parenting Magazine).
Here are ten ways to teach spirituality to your children:
1. Eat Meals Together
Eat meals together. This can be three meals a day, or Sunday dinner. Our first community is our family, and meal time is a great time to be together and share the things we find valuable. Take the time and make the effort so meals can be a rich experience for everyone. Take turns and share prep. Make it fun!
2. Say Grace Before Meals
Say grace before meals. Rituals are ways to help us remember what we want to remember. Saying thanks before meals is a beautiful ritual. An important component of spirituality is gratitude, an incredible shortcut to an authentically abundant life. Saying grace is an opportunity to remember all the things we have to be thankful for.
I always said or read something I felt deeply, reflecting the news or something that had happened in our lives that day. My husband usually offered something like “I am grateful for photosynthesis” which he meant most sincerely. And our son always said the same thing “I am thankful for food, friends and family“. I like taking a minute to breathe and be together quietly before we all dig in.
3. Establish Bedtime Rituals
Establish bedtime rituals. It can be as simple as asking “What was your happy thing today?” (another chance to practice gratitude) or “Did you have a sad thing today?” (might be an opportunity to teach about forgiveness or how to deal with sadness or anger at another person). You can ask “Is there someone you would like to be able to help?” if you want to encourage service work. Our son loved helping monkeys (he supported the Jane Goodall Foundation”. Be creative, but remember at bedtime you do want to set a calming, quieting tone.
4. Say Prayers At Bedtime
Say prayers at bedtime. You can use a short mantra or prayer to instill family values (“May we be filled with loving-kindness”, “Forgive us for our mistakes as we forgive others who make mistakes”, etc). You can use traditional prayers from your life or inspirational readings you or the kids have discovered or create your own and have your kids create their own if they are so inclined. This is another time to practice gratitude. You can start at the beginning of the week expressing gratitude to those things closest to you and move outward as the week progresses.
5. Teach them how to meditate
Teach them how to meditate. We had a delightful little book called “Starbright – Meditations for Children” by Maureen Garth that we used as a guide at bedtime. It helped teach our kids how to quiet themselves down for bedtime. This was important especially if we had gotten excited talking about our happy things. As the kids got older, we turned to more traditional meditation during the day, giving them time for quiet contemplation, time to listen to what their hearts were saying. If you are not familiar with meditation, just schedule some quiet time. For younger children this can just be a minute.
6. Schedule Quiet Time
Schedule quiet time. Turn off the cell phones and the TV. (I highly recommend turning off electronics at mealtime, even if mealtimes are not quiet times at your house). Be sure to teach your kids how to listen to their hearts. Our world is bombarded with outside messages, including messages from US to them. They have their own angels speaking to them, and to whom they can turn for guidance, but they have to learn to listen. Give them this gift. Teach them about the voice of their heart, the voice of their angels, the voice of something bigger than themselves.
7. Set Aside Part of Their Allowance for Sharing
Set aside part of their allowance for sharing. Native American cultures define wealth as having enough to share. You can teach your children to be part of the community, participate in helping others and to appreciate their rich lives by teaching them to share what they have. Our son was allowed to spend some of his money, and he had to save some. He also “had to” (“got to” in the native American view) share some of his money, regardless of whether it was allowance, earned or a gift. From a very young age our son loved monkeys, as I mentioned above, and we found an organization (Jane Goodall) that he still contributes to today, as an adult. Over the holidays we decide who to donate to as a family.
8. Spend Time In Nature
Spend time in nature and have a nature table at home to keep little treasures you collect. Our dining room table always seemed to collect leaves and rocks and acorns. There are a million variations on this theme from gardening to quiet Sunday walks to whitewater rafting vacations to gazing at a fish tank. Go camping, gaze at the stars, and walk on the beach. Nature always brings us closer to Spirit. I recommend this as a daily practice. There is nothing like spending time outdoors regularly to provide that sense of being part of something bigger and inspiring awe and gratitude.
9. Participate In Your Community
Participate in your community. If you do not belong to a church and want to instill that comforting sense of belonging and community, be sure you have a group that shares your values to share your lives with. This can be your family if you live near family (and have that kind of family). It can be neighbors or old friends of the family, families from playgroup or school, a local organization with kids like a watershed group. Celebrate birthdays and graduations and be there for each other when a pet gets lost or a heart gets broken. Teach by example, by giving money to the homeless, or serving meals in your community, or sharing from your garden.
and 10. If They Do Want To Go To Church… For God’s Sake Let Them!