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Teaching Values to Young Children: Spirituality

 Children of all ages are curious about God. Even at a young age, they will have ideas about their God, now matter what their religion. Children are spiritual beings. Their view of God develops and matures as they grow. More than anyone else, as a parent, you are their spiritual guide.  By your actions, you demonstrate the principles of what you believe. (The God referred to in the following sections is meant to encompass the Divine Creator, no matter what this Creator is called in many different religions.)

Two and three year olds

Two and three year olds have a wonderful imagination.  They may have a very literal view of God, which is sometimes related to something they have heard or seen. Children of this age can be taken to places of worship, but they may have difficult time sitting through services. They enjoy music, movement and tactile experiences and can relate to the rituals of religion in this way. They will not have an understanding conceptually of some of the behavior associated with religious faith, such as compassion, kindness, fairness, justice, etc.   

What you can do   

At this age, the most important thing you can do is lay a foundation of trust and love within your family.   Show your family that you love them. This lays the foundation for spirituality, and is the font from which faith will come.

Demonstrate implicitly your faith in the world and the belief that things will turn out alright—positivism makes the world safer for the toddler. Allow your children to express their feelings and teach them appropriate ways to do so.  Also model ways of behavior that your faith holds dear, such as tolerance, kindness, love, forgiveness.  If you take your child to your place of worship, be aware that sitting still for a long time is difficult for this age group, so provide breaks.  This is a good time to introduce short prayers and songs to your child.  

Four and five year olds   

Four and five year olds are interested in conversations about God, as well as in religion.  They notice that different people have different religions and places of worship.  They may also have some far flung and creative ideas, which is normal for this age group. They will try to personalize God, and begin to enjoy rituals.   

What you can do   

Encourage conversations with your child about your religion, and ask them about their perception of God.  Four and five year olds can be very imaginative; don’t discourage their ideas, as thinking about these topics lays a good foundation for them.  Children at this age also like to draw their ideas—this is a good way to start a conversation and to talk about your beliefs and religion When everyday life situations come up where a message of kindness or love may be appropriate, discuss these with your children. Teach your children to respect other religions, as this tolerance is the cornerstone to many religious faiths. There are many books of religious stories, prayers and songs for this age group. Children at this age are able to sit a little bit longer through ceremonies or services, but it is sometimes best to bring along something for them to color or occupy themselves so they don’t disturb others. You can start talking to your child about prayer, both by teaching them some of the simpler established prayers of your religion, and by encouraging them to talk directly to God. Explain why people pray.  

Six and seven year olds   

Six and seven year olds think more abstractly than younger children. They exhibit some definite ideas about God, including some fears about death. They are also developing a conscience. They are social, and aware of others around them. They are developing compassion and a sense of how others might feel during certain circumstances. Through school and other social experiences, they are also aware that there are many different religious beliefs. They feel comfortable belonging to a religious institution and enjoy rituals.   

What you can do   

At this age, children may ask a lot of questions. Encourage them to try to answer the question themselves, and then use the opportunity to have a discussion about your beliefs. This is an ideal time to begin formal religious education.  But your job as a parent goes beyond that: every day presents situations where you can discuss your values, model good behavior and show children how to behave.  All this takes time and practice. Teach children the values of giving, forgiveness, honesty, friendship, fairness, and other values you hold dear.   Also teach tolerance of other religions, people and beliefs.  There are many books that children this age will enjoy relating to faith and religion.  Children of this age will also be very capable of learning prayers and songs. This is an ideal time to begin simple community service projects with your children, such as contributing food to the needy and working in a food pantry.  

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