Why do kids need spirituality? According to psychologist and New York Times-bestselling author Lisa Miller, Ph.D, spirituality plays a significant role in a child’s social, emotional and cognitive development. In fact, research shows that children who have positive, active relationships to spirituality are happier, more optimistic, and are better equipped to deal with day-to-day problems.
Miller discussed this topic at a recent ParentEd Talk sponsored by Chicago Parent as part of a series of talks with parenting experts. Miller says that kids who believe in something are happier and healthier, and she offers tips and best practices on how to engage spirituality in parenting to enhance grit, optimism and resilience in children.
1. Provide transparency into our own spiritual life
Miller says parents can foster spiritual development by sharing their own spiritual experiences, questions and wonderings. For example, when parents pray, meditate, walk in nature or feel a great love, it is important to stop and narrate that moment for their children.
“When you speak out loud of the spiritual reality, you pave the pathways for children to feel that,” Miller says.
2. Model empathy
Look for opportunities to step up with your child to lend a hand. Miller says it can be something as simple as gathering clothes to take to a homeless shelter or befriending a new child at school.
3. Start spiritual traditions within the home
Whether it is saying grace at the dinner table, creating a routine for bedtime prayers or celebrating a religious holiday, research shows that family-based practices can have an even greater impact on a child’s spirituality than time in faith-based programs.
4. Use questions to open lifelong conversations
Parents should not turn away from difficult “why” questions that children are prone to ask (God, death, etc.). Instead, Miller suggests being honest but move toward opening a lifelong conversation rather than closing it down by simply saying “I don’t know.” For example, a parent may say “I don’t know the answer to that question, but I feel most aligned when I believe in _____.”
5. Help children align with their inner compass
Miller says that every child has a deep, spiritual compass that points to the truth. Parents should call attention to good behaviors and attribute them to a child’s spiritual compass. For example, a parent can say something like “I saw the way your friends were fighting, and I like how you helped to find a solution. That was your spiritual compass telling you what to do.”
6. Take the pressure off of children
Miller believes that today’s pressure to achieve is preventing youth from healthy individuation, something they need time and exploration to achieve. She advises parents not to focus on getting the best grades, getting into the best schools, etc. but rather, being their best selves.
7. Encourage their spiritual development
Spiritual development takes encouragement, and Miller says that although parents may not agree with their child, it is important they be interested, curious and open to exploration. Additionally, parents should give children the room they need to explore the deep knowing within themselves.
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