Teaching spirituality: give your children a lesson they can follow all year
IN the midst of toys and games, trains and toy cars, it's easy for children--and parents--to lose sight of the spiritual meaning of the season. But between Santa Claus and his reindeer, more and more parents are reaching for and teaching the spiritual messages of the holiday season and realizing the long-term benefits.
UNDERSTANDING THE SPIRIT
Contrary to popular belief, spirituality is not necessarily linked to specific religious services, says Dr. James Comer, author of Leave No Child Behind: Preparing Today's Youth for Tomorrow's World. "Spirituality has to do with your respect for life and the rights and opportunities of other people and your appreciation of your environment," he says. "We are all born with the potential for good and bad, but the way you decide to live is what your children will pick up. From the earliest ages, you have to be a good person in front of them as your behavior will define their values, their attitudes and their reactions to various situations."
Spiritual awareness, beginning as early as the early childhood years, makes a difference. "Having a spiritual grounding can help kids deal with crisis, resist peer pressure, and [as they get older] avoid negative influences such as drugs and alcohol," says Lisa Miller, Ph.D., professor of psychotherapy and spirituality at Teachers College, Columbia University.
According to Miller, studies have shown that a relationship with a higher being, however that is defined in your family, is "the most protective element for your children."
Miller adds: "What's important is not the nomenclature, but the connection to something larger than the individual. With that sense of connection comes a sense of companionship, which in turn, makes kids more resilient to life's troubles, both big and small."
TEACHING THE SPIRIT DAY-BY-DAY
In order to impart spiritual values, parents need a certain level of satisfaction within themselves and the ability to successfully manage their own lives and environment, says Dr. Comer, coauthor with Dr. Alvin Poussaint of Raising Black Children: Two Leading Psychiatrists Confront the Educational, Social, and Emotional Problems Facing Black Children. "Everything your child needs to know has to begin before kindergarten and has to change as your child changes, and as his capacity to think, understand and raise questions changes." As your child grows and develops, so should your level of interaction and instruction.
From an early age, children, especially very young ones, ask all kinds of questions, including the unanswerable ones, but that shouldn't diminish your effectiveness as a parent.
According to experts, it's not knowing all of the answers, but establishing a "spiritual dialogue" that creates a platform for the discussion of spiritual issues, concepts and questions.
APPLYING THE PRINCIPLES
For parents who may not have growing up or who don't feel comfortable talking religion with their children, experts suggest focusing on the everyday occurrences and smaller "teaching" moments to create spiritual awareness.
1. Sharing--"It's not the big things, but the little things that mean a lot," says Dr. Comer. "Teach children about the importance of sharing their time, their money, their spirit and their talent with someone who needs it. This could be an elderly relative, a sick neighbor or simply someone in need. Let your child see you perform the art of sharing so that they can know exactly what it looks like and how good it makes the other person feel."
2. Thankfulness--Before a meal before bedtime or in the morning are excellent times to acknowledge a higher being and to talk about the meaning of creation and the meaning of a supreme Creator.
3. Trust--Children learn trust, experts agree, when parents respond in ways that children can count on, when parents are reliable, dependable and meet a continuing need. Children, in turn, learn to be reliable and responsible to others.
4. Sacrifice--Building character includes learning to sacrifice, giving when you have little to give, but doing so because someone else is in need. Parting with something of value, giving something of meaning away or sharing Christmas gifts with a children's shelter teaches children the benefits of sacrifice.
5. Honor--If you are a responsible parent, your children will want to be responsible to you and will aspire to follow your lead. Showing honor to your parents, family members and friends shows children how to treat other people.
6. Faith--Teaching children about the spirit within them and how that spirit affects other people, their environment and the happiness of others is a lesson that can be learned every day. "Teaching children to believe in themselves is the beginning of faith," says Dr. Comer. "Children must believe in their power to change the world around them."
by Nikitta A. Foston
COPYRIGHT 2004 Johnson Publishing Co.
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" The choices we make in thought, word and deed inevitably return to us in kind."