For some people religion and spirituality are synonymous, but regardless of whether you have a faith based in a religion, or in wider spirituality, teaching children that everyone can have spirituality regardless of whether they believe in a god is important.
Spirituality is often confused with spiritualism, which can of course be part of some people’s spirituality. Sprituality is also sometimes assumed to be something those who don’t believe in a god don’t have.
When my mum died she had a humanist ceremony and it was full of meaning, joy and spirit and it finally helped me to see what spirituality meant to me. I don’t always get it right and it can be hard to teach something you are discovering for yourself, but here are six ways I have found to teach your child about spirituality.
Describe your family spirituality to your children, let them own it
Family mottos, sayings or collages of important beliefs have become a trend in interior design, but with good reason. Declaring your family’s beliefs and values can teach your child about spirituality and help them verbalise it.
Just as an atheist can struggle to find the words to describe religion, describing a spirituality that isn’t based in religion can be a challenge. My own spirituality took a long while to define, I don’t believe in god, but atheism always seemed like an absence not just of god, but like a kind of vacuum of beliefs, values and spirit too.
Children who aren’t raised to be religious can feel that they are missing out by not going to church or calling themselves a particular religion, I know I whined to my parents endlessly about not being christened, mainly because I was teased about it at school – but often it is just a case of explaining what families have and believe and celebrate in place of religion.
When my daughter asks about ‘not being christened’, instead I will tell her long stories about the processions of people who turned up to greet her, I will show her the cards they sent and the twinkly diamond necklace my best friend gave her, a star to guide her through life. My son already loves to unpack his baby box and talk about the photos, socks and hats.
Find your happy places
The first time I encountered the word spirituality I was training to teach, my mentor was leading a PSHE session with a GCSE group. He defined his spirituality as at is strongest when he was in nature. It was a bit of a lightbulb moment for me. I realised being outdoors really made me feel in tune with the world. I’ve gathered more since, staring at the stars always helps me to realise that I am just a tiny piece of the universe and that my problems might seem huge, but they aren’t really, not in the big scheme of things. Spending time gardening with my kids is one way that I encourage them to value nature, whereas my husband likes to talk to them about Space and the universe.
I think its important to raise children to be inquisitive, to have questions and to be philosophers, one of the best ways to do that I find is to model asking lots of questions. Visiting places that encourage questions about the world, museums, historical sites, exhibitions can keep their minds wondering and encourage them to ask more questions.
Model emotions and positive thoughts
Talk to children about what is going on inside your head too, its incredibly powerful for them to gain these insights. From explaining you are feeling worried or sad, to telling them you are sending positive thoughts to someone, letting them hear how you think about others and care for them teaches them to have a caring spirit.
Donating to charity, fund raising and thinking about others is a big thing I try to model.
We do celebrate Easter and Christmas, they have largely become Christian festivals these days, but they haven’t always been that way. I make sure to explain to my children what different religions are celebrating at these times and to discuss what we are celebrating too. For me Easter is about new life and nature bouncing back. Christmas is a festival to see us through the darkest days of Winter and a time to really share with friends and family.
We have our own rituals too, from pizza Friday to the annual climb up the hill to the tree where my Mum’s ashes are scattered, to lighting a candle to signal the start of family time at the weekend, or retreating into nature without technology in our caravan. Big and small, rituals are a big part of defining a spiritual family life.
Books can take you to so many different places and help children understand other people’s perspectives and develop empathy. One of my favourites is the Soul Bird, by Michal Snunit, it’s a lovely story about how a bird processes different emotions.
How do you teach your child about spirituality, I am always on the hunt for new ideas?