Nurturing Your Child's Spiritual Development throughout the Years

Most of the people I know who have what I want—which is to say, purpose, heart, balance, gratitude, joy—are people with a deep sense of spirituality. . . . They follow a brighter light than the glimmer of their own candle; they are part of something beautiful.
—Author Ann Lamott, in Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith

We don’t always think of religious and spiritual development as part of the overall process of growing up. But, as we mature, all humans spend time thinking about the meaning of life, why we are here, how we treat others and ourselves, what we value, and other important concerns. Our answers to these questions are always evolving. As a parent, you can help your children discover and explore their own beliefs, in part by using the suggestions that follow.

For more information on family spirituality, see Spiritual Life.

Tips for . . .

  • all parents
    • For more information on nurturing your child’s spiritual development, see Search Institute’s Center for Spiritual Development in Childhood and Adolescence at spiritualdevelopmentcenter.org.
    • parents with children ages birth to 5
    • Participate as a family in rituals and practices that engage the five senses—sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell.
    • Adapt your religious and spiritual practices to match your child’s developmental abilities. Children this age may only be able to sit 10-15 minutes (or less) at one time. Offer a quiet activity or book to keep your child engaged.
    • Encourage your child to talk about her interpretations of spiritual or religious concepts, asking questions to clarify comments, rather than judging what she says.
    • parents with children ages 6 to 9
    • Together, read stories and enjoy music and other creative arts that have religious or spiritual themes.
    • Make conversations about spiritual matters a part of your family life.
    • Spend time regularly with other parents and families who share your spiritual beliefs, practices, and priorities.
    • parents with children ages 10 to 15
    • Encourage your child to take part in positive peer groups that reinforce and nurture his spiritual commitments.
    • Talk with other parents (including parents of older teens) about your family’s experiences with religious and spiritual commitments.
    • Keep talking with and listening to your child, even if she says things about religion or spirituality that worry or disappoint you.
    • parents with children ages 16 to 18
    • Model spiritual beliefs and practices that are important to you. At this point in parenting, actions often speak louder than words.
    • It’s okay for your teen to seek out adult mentors with deep spiritual commitments or practices, even if those practices differ from your own. Exposure to different cultures and belief systems can help him evaluate and define his own.
  • Be open to following your teenager’s lead if she introduces you to spiritual passions and commitments that are important to her, but are different from yours. If she moves in directions that cause you concern, share your perspective and listen to what she has to say.

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