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Your Naturally Spiritual Child

September 2015

Until recently, spirituality has not been widely thought of as a resource useful to healthy human development.  However, a new science of spirituality and mental health is changing that perception by showing us we all have an inborn natural spirituality that is foundational to our mental health.   In addition, scientists are learning that the absence of support for children’s spiritual growth is contributing to alarming rates of childhood and adolescent emotional suffering and behaviors that put them at risk.  Furthermore, research shows that a parent’s decision about how to approach his or her child’s spiritual life is a high-stakes proposition with lifelong implications.  

Neuroscientists say we are hardwired for spiritual connection.  Spiritual in this case means having an inner sense of a living relationship to a higher power which could be God, nature, spirit, universe, the creator, or whatever a person’s word is for the ultimate loving, guiding life-force.  Spiritual development, thus can be defined as the growth and progression of our inborn spirituality.  And, like all other faculties, spirituality needs encouragement and support in order to grow and develop; otherwise a person’s innate spiritual nature erodes.

In the first decade of life, the child advances through a process of integrating  her spiritual “knowing” with other cognitive, emotional, and physical capabilities.  These are all shaped by interactions with parents, family, peers, and community.  In these years, spirituality can be cultivated through experiences of connection that are nourishing.   For example, you support your child’s spiritual development when you read to him, talk with him, sing and play with him, feed and bathe him, and encourage him.  Things as simple as a smile or a loving touch help him to develop his relationship with a loving universe. Also, giving him plenty of access to the natural world enables him to have a sense of a caring relationship with all living things.    Encourage qualities in your child such as his open, curious, and loving ways and his immediate instinct to respond from his heart, and you will be cultivating the innate spiritual assets that will one day turn into spiritual strengths.  You can also introduce him to ritual and to prayer, things young children naturally love. 

Teenage years are now understood to be in large part a journey of essential spiritual search and growth.  For teenagers, questioning meaning and purpose, exploring the nature of their deepest self, learning how to  approach their work and relationships,  and coming to a sense of ultimate reality are the areas in which their spiritual development occurs. Figuring out what is right and what is wrong also looms large in their list of spiritual concerns.   These are the profound and important questions upon which they begin to build their personal spirituality.  When you, as a parent, support these concerns by providing resources and entering into discussions with them, your teen will find in his spiritual individuation such things as clarity, a sense of calm, a feeling of bonding with fellow teens, and love for the bigger world.

Parenting a naturally spiritual child affords you the opportunity to re-think your choices and to embrace the idea that fulfillment in life is found in meaning and purpose, not in a better computer, a nicer car, the latest cell phone, or more money.  Remember, your own spirituality and your unconditional parental love and affection are the two factors of prime importance to your child’s spiritual development.  When you commit yourself to living your deepest spiritual values and you create a field of love within your home, you are passing on the torch of spiritual engagement and connection to your child.  In the final analysis, it is through the many moments that you thoughtfully embody spiritual values, awaken your family to spiritual presence, and meet life’s challenges and opportunities that you deepen your child’s innate spirituality.  
To learn more about this topic, read, “The Spiritual Child,” by Lisa Miller, Ph.D.


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