Fostering a Sense of Wonder Helps Kids Become Spiritually Curious
For Johnson-Doyle, the conversations are an opportunity to encourage his daughter's spiritual growth.
He shares his own views about dying as well as those of other faiths. He's not afraid to tell her that he doesn't have all the answers.
"It's better to say we don't know," he tells ParentDish. "I tell her: 'We just keep trying to figure it out."'
If you address spiritual questions with children, they will be OK with a lack of concrete answers, adds Carrie Brown-Wolf, author of "Soul Sunday: A Family's Guide to Exploring Faith and Teaching Tolerance."
"We really don't know, and kids know we don't know," she says. "So to ask questions along with them is an honest approach."
Involving kids in discussions that have no answers will help their spirituality evolve, she says.
Fostering spirituality is key to helping kids grow into caring, imaginative and motivated adults, adds Karen-Marie Yust, an associate professor of Christian education at Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond, Va.
"Spirituality is important because children need a sense that the world is bigger than they are," she says. "Spirituality is the capacity to wonder about things around you."
ParentDish sought advice from numerous religious experts on how to feed children's spiritual curiosity. Here are their tips:
- "Take a moment to teach children how to listen to others speaking. We need to listen as much as we talk," Imam Yahya Hendi, Georgetown University, Washington D.C.
- "Be intentional about doing things to help others and let children know we do this because this is what we believe Christ taught us to do," Diane Smith, children's ministry strategist for the Virginia Baptist Mission Board, Richmond, Va.
- "Do create sacred time for children to explore and wonder about the world around them," Mark Horowitz, director of the Jewish Community Centers of North America's early childhood education department, New York, N.Y.
- "Help a child develop a sense of the other -- as in not everybody is the same as I am. The sense of other leads to empathy and sympathy, and leads to respect for diversity," Shirley Morgenthaler, distinguished professor of education at Concordia University Chicago, which is affiliated with the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.
- "Stay at the table with children and engage them in conversation. Don't get frightened when kids talk about deep stuff because they're curious about deep stuff," The Rev. Matthew Johnson-Doyle of the Unitarian Universalist Church in Rockford, Ill.
- "Spend time together in nature," Catherine Stonehouse, dean of the school of practical theology, Asbury Theological Seminary, Wilmore, Ky.
- "Don't pretend to know everything. That's the opportunity to work together to look for answers. The child will see that the parent is always searching, and that's a gift," Philip Gorrasi, associate superintendent for mission effectiveness for the Archdiocese of New York.
- "Give children a sense of the variety of the world. Helping them see the variety of possibilities in the world gives them lots of material to wonder about," Karen-Marie Yust, author of "Real Kids, Real Faith: Practices for Nurturing Children's Spiritual Lives."
- "Expose them to as many faiths as possible. Even if you and your partner share the same faith tradition, affirm (children's) innate curiosity by introducing them to various faith traditions," Steve McSwain, author and interfaith speaker.
- "Avoid dogma that children should follow something because 'I said so.' Introduce children to spiritual practices in day to day life, such as prayers or recitation of Holy verses to begin the day, mentally chanting God's Name during routine activities, talking about our day to God before going to bed, etc., so children can first-hand experience spiritual purity and divinity," Bhavna Shinde Hurley, Forum for Hindu Awareness in Fairfax, Va.
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.