The Spiritual Child
Do kids need spirituality?
When I began my journey of connecting with parents after writing Raising a Child with Soul, there were some who could not fathom the idea that children are spiritual beings. I often recalled my father’s words as he gazed at my newborn son in the nursery. “Slova Chanalah, this little soul just arrived from the heavens above. He was learning Torah from the mouths of angels. He came into this world the purest of the pure. Watch over him and teach him well.” There was no doubt for me; children are born naturally spiritual.
Now, a Columbia University psychologist, Dr. Lisa Miller, has written a book asking us to think about our child’s spiritual journey in this world. We learn that there is EQ, IQ, and natural spirituality as well. Children possess an innate spiritual compass that is part of our biological endowment; it must be cultivated to flourish. Through highlighting psychological and neurological research she proves that children raised in a nurturing spiritual life are happier, more successful, more resilient, more optimistic, and better able to handle life’s challenges. These kids grow up to become adults who live with grit, are aware of their blessings, find purpose and mission in their careers, value their relationships and see hardships as priceless opportunities.
She compels parents to think about their children’s sacred growth through scientific research. A study of twins shows that a person’s sense of being connected to a Higher Being is inherited. In other words you can create a spiritual legacy and pass it on to your children. Any parent of teenagers will be thrilled to learn that they can help protect their teens from engaging in risky behaviors and even cope better with depression by helping them be in touch with their spiritual side. Miller takes the case for spirituality further by warning us that “spiritual stunting” can cause damage by preventing a child from developing a true sense of self and resiliency. Crisis occurs when a child’s spiritual development is neglected or denied.
In a world where parents strive to give their children the best education, encounter experiences from zip-lining in jungles to swimming with dolphins, compete in extreme sports tournaments, encourage art, dance and music and learn languages like Mandarin, where does spirituality fit in? The question is especially hard-hitting for those who feel disconnected and spiritually alienated. Miller asks parents to consider the possibility of offering piano lessons to children even if they, themselves, don’t know how to play. Would one offer a child something beneficial even though it feels strange and unfamiliar?
This is an especially crucial question when we contemplate the world that we live in. Our children are growing up in a culture where empty fame and excessive materialism are worshipped. Kids are constantly posting and taking selfies learning to focus exclusively on themselves. Bullying, cynicism, casual cruelty surrounds them. How can we help our children grow generous in heart and spirit?
I spoke with Dr. Miller and asked her these questions on behalf of our Aish.com readers:
Q: What does raising a spiritual child mean to today’s parents?
A: Every child born is a spiritual child. This becomes our opportunity to support our child’s birthright. When we pay attention, respond with love and interest to spiritual wonder, we help ourselves raise a spiritual child. And this is irrespective of tradition or your own religious upbringing. Every child has this birthright to build this relationship. This is an entirely different way of raising children than if we remain silent. To pave the road back to natural spirituality we offer our child access, focus parents’ attention and offer a path. This involves being transparent. Go the extra mile to put the spirituality in the child’s life.
And as a sidebar, she added, a child comes naturally with a universe of spirituality. Help build your spiritual child. Every tradition has a language and practice; every child can know what is meant. Research has shown that it is not enough to be kind. Optimism, forgiveness and regret are all required virtues. In 4 out of 5 kids, a child is as virtuous as they have personal spirituality – connecting with a Higher Power. Character strength and virtues go hand in hand.
Q: What would you say to parents who tell me that they are too overwhelmed trying to handle getting their kids into the right schools and overwhelming academic pressures, basically saying that raising a successful child today takes time and there is just no time left to put into spirituality?
A: The most important thing we can do towards outward success – college, skills, grades –is to give human fulfillment. Both correlate with a strong spiritual life. This means giving children a sense of fulfillment; from talents and gifts to making a contribution to this world as a sacred self. There is performance and then there is meaning in life. Kids fall apart with only a performance self. If they don’t know where they are or why they are here it becomes an empty life. Children with a sacred sense of the world have less depression. Children have an inner spiritual compass, a calling that says ‘where I want to go’. And at age 45 if one is left by a spouse or loses money the performance self is shattered but the sacred self remains.
Q: You say in your book, The Spiritual Child: The New Science on Parenting for Health and Lifelong Thriving that children, especially teens, have a growing spiritual need. What about the ‘spiritually cynical’ parent?
A: When a parent is cynical and so jaded, there is not much left. That is an empty bucket. We do have in us an open heart in whatever language we can be moved to hold value in the beauty of life. That’s not sappy; it’s real. It’s bedrock. And it’s a much healthier way of living. Our kids need a spiritual hub.
I have been reflecting on this last question that I asked, about spiritually cynical parents. There are many who must grapple with being apathetic or even opposed to their child’s spiritual path. It is not an easy challenge. But we must take a moment and reflect on our responsibility as parents. We have a higher calling. It is up to us to nurture our children’s souls and give them tools for life. We try hard to provide our children with the best in life, why stop when it comes to their spiritual path? It behooves each parent to consider the price their child is paying for their cynical spirit. Our legacy includes a connection to God that anchors our children to values and beliefs, enhancing their lives with purpose, stability and meaningful traditions, making them more likely to avoid risky behavior.
Parents who explore the wonder of life and delve into this new spiritual world along with their children discover the magic of the soul. Within each of us lies a spark. Perhaps in some it is merely an ember, but still, the spark remains waiting to be ignited. And sometimes it takes a child to kindle the soul of his parent. How can we deny our child this gift of life?
As we concluded our conversation, we spoke together about the mission we share, to bring spirituality home. Dr. Miller added. “Tell parents this is not one more thing to do. It’s about sitting still. Showing up. Doing less and being present more.”
The journey awaits us.