Faith Development in Children: Why Nurture Your Child’s Spirituality

by Dr. Mom®

The birth of a child renews the mystery of creation and fills parents with an awesome sense of responsibility. Whether firm in their faith or having strayed from their beliefs, many parents find that the miracle of new life and the daunting challenges of parenthood motivate them to turn or return to God for strength and guidance to reinforce their human inadequacies.

Why Parents Should Nurture Their Child’s Spirituality

Faith traditions are only one generation from extinction unless we pass them on to our children. Thus, it’s been aptly said, “God has no grandchildren, only children.” Young children are highly receptive to spiritual matters due to their unbridled imagination and magical sense of wonder in the world. Instilling spiritual beliefs offers children many concrete benefits, including:

• Belief in Something Larger Than Oneself.   Children find comfort in the idea of an all-powerful, all-good creator God who is in charge of the whole universe and has a master plan for our lives. God, who is everlasting to everlasting, represents a constant and comforting presence amid the turmoil of our lives. Cultivating a relationship with the God of the universe gives increased meaning to children’s experiences and provides a source of strength, comfort, and hope.

• Unconditional Love.   In God, children have a perfect spiritual parent, who created each person for a special relationship with the Divine. While a parent’s love will always be flawed and imperfect, God’s unfathomable seeking love will never let a child down. God’s unconditional love for humankind serves as a perfect model for parental love.

• Moral Development.   Faith in a Higher Power is a positive moral force in the social development of children. When our example falls short of the ideal, God’s perfect standards and the life and teachings of Jesus provide children with an unchangeable moral code in a world of situational ethics. For example, the Ten Commandments provide guidelines for living in right relationship with God and with one’s fellow human beings. Explain that God wants to help us make good choices and be kind to one another.

• Comfort in Times of Stress.   Spiritual beliefs offer comforting security in a world that often doesn’t make sense to children. The belief that God is intimately involved in our lives, and that God cares deeply about our trials and sorrows, represents an enormous source of comfort, hope, and healing during times of stress and adversity. 

• Tradition and Community.   Faith traditions and a community of believers provide parents and children with an extended family of diverse people who share common beliefs, worship together, and support one another. In a loving faith community, children can find positive role models, gain a sense of belonging, and experience comforting traditions.

When to Begin a Child’s Spiritual Development

• Spiritual education begins in the cradle.  An attitude of trust begins when a baby learns to trust in the dependability of her parents’ care and love. This foundation will later form the basis for faith and trust in God.  Young children form their idea about the goodness and comfort of God from the model of their own parents, who are God-like to them.

• Many parents abdicate responsibility for teaching children about spirituality, explaining that they plan to let their children choose their own faith beliefs when they are older. However, we don’t allow our children to decide for themselves whether they will brush their teeth, wear a seatbelt, practice good manners, eat a healthy diet, or attend school. Instead, in these other important matters, we begin early in life to transmit the values and beliefs we think are in our child’s best interest. For example, we want our children to know their close relatives, but we don’t wait until they are old enough to ask about their grandparents to introduce them to Grandma and Grandpa. Similarly, if we value our children’s spiritual development, we should begin to teach them about God at the earliest opportunity.

• Children will not remain a blank slate in the area of spirituality.   Children will hear about God in the media, in music, in the pledge of allegiance, on our coins and currency, in other children’s homes, in angry expletives, and in phrases like “an act of God.”  If a child’s parents don’t tell him about God, young children will use these indirect references to formulate their own (usually negative) perceptions of God.

Copyright ©  2011  Marianne Neifert, MD, MTS, FAAP     May be duplicated if authorship is cited.