How do early experiences influence a childís
spiritual life? When Laura was seven, Adam, the family dog died. She
took it very hard. While riding with her mom in the car one day, Laura
was restless and talked nonstop, until her mother asked her to please
lean back a take a rest. Laura did so, and awakened after twenty minutes.
She excitedly reported that she had left her body and went to talk to
Adam, who had told her that her being upset was making it hard for him
and that she should send him love and light if she wanted to help him.
He also told her heíd come to see her so that sheíd know what to do
when someone else close to her dies. After that she was completely at
peace with Adamís passing, but the story does not end there.
In a few short weeks, Lauraís aunt gave birth to a baby with a terminal
illness. Laura insisted on visiting, even holding the dying child, and
informed the family that she was sending love and light to help this
dying infant. The whole family felt better. Not only did Laura learn
from Adamís "visit" but it enabled her to teach the adults
within her sphere.
What problems and dangers do children face
with respect to their spiritual capacities? What can we, as nurturing
adults, do to help our children? Some time ago, psychiatrist Gerald
Jampolsky reported an increasing number of parents who brought their
children to him with concerns that they were having psychotic episodes.
The children would seem to see, hear or interact with phenomena that
the parents did not perceive.
Jampolsky advises that, rather then assuming the worst, parents can
be much more helpful by smiling encouragement but not interference;
acknowledging the childís reality and allowing further exploration.
If an infant points or stares at something unseen, follow the direction
and simply nod and smile or laugh with encouragement. If the child can
communicate, ask the child to describe what he or she perceives, or
what is taking place.
If instead, the parent waves it off, or says that it is "nothing",
or describes the scene in adult terms, the child may become shy about
describing what he or she thinks is happening, or may stop believing,
or "seeing," at all. Rather than feeling safe to explore the
unknown, the child becomes firmly entrenched in the physical world,
and even that from the viewpoint of the parent guide. Such children
will forgo the rich spiritual world as it has opened before them, assuming
that the only correct way to see is as their parents have taught them
At age 11, Alison, suddenly stopped playing
in her yard to come into the house and say to her mom that her momís
friend Ellen had just died. Allison could not understand or explain
how she knew this. Her mom became very upset and told her not to say
that. When the phone rang a few minutes later and confirmed what Alison
had said, her mom became even more angry and told Alison to never tell
anyone about what had happened and to "never do it again."
Alison, now grown, said that she wondered what was wrong with her and
even if she had somehow caused Ellenís death. It certainly stifled her
further exploration of spiritual matters. In fact, the author, Dr. Tobin
Hart, is the first person, after her mother, with whom she shared the
Dianeís father passed away suddenly, when
she was 12. Much to her familyís consternation, she continued to feel
his presence and would converse with him. When her family discovered
her talking to him about continuing their relationship, she was forced
to sleep in her momís room because they assumed that she was hysterical.
However, Diane would not be discouraged. She continued to "see"
and communicate with her dad. Diane believes that her father helped
her through her motherís long illness which followed his death, and
that he also supported and encouraged her writing skills over the years.
During the early years, he would help her finish sentences or find just
the right words. By the time she was 24, she was senior editor of a
major magazine. When her dad finally began to move away, she asked him
why. He responded that she was able to be on her own and he wanted her
to realize her own strengths.
Even though he was no longer in frequent communication, she continued
to be aware of his presence and that he would sometimes simply hold
her. Diane felt that she would have missed a wonderful opportunity for
this relationship, as well as her personal spiritual growth, had she
let her familyís reaction impede her further exploration of this spiritual
encounter with her dad.
As shown above, not all children can be
strong in the face of adult discouragement. Some are especially vulnerable
to even subtle discouragement from adults they trust. So, how do we
nurture our children in this area instead?
Dr. Hartís daughter was in fourth grade
when he got the opportunity to help her "see" that the bridge
from the physical to the spiritual world could be traversed for practical
reasons, as well as emotional reinforcement. Haley needed to complete
an assignment on significant black historical figure and had chosen
to report on Mahalia Jackson, the gospel singer. Haley had chosen a
book and gotten some information from the Internet. While typing her
report, Haley seemed tense and frustrated.
In order to help her to relax and to encourage her to continue to do
a good job, Dr. Hart suggested a short break and an experiment with
her angel. He suggested that she lie down on her bed and ask her angel
if she knew anything about Mahalia. Haley, eager for a diversion, agreed.
When she returned after about 20 minutes, she was bouncy and matter-of-fact
about having "seen" Mahalia and gotten substantial, personal
information from the singer that was not reflected in any of the material
previously gathered. The additional information enlivened and enriched
the report substantially and, more than that, encouraged Haley to trust
and respect the spiritual dimension.
An interesting sidebar is how Haley made the connection. The author
had asked her to ask her angel, an excellent precaution to abate fear
or negative spiritual influences; beyond that, he left it to his daughter
to use and respond to her own internal guidance.
Haley said that after she asked her angel, she went, in her mind, to
instantly the singer came to stand before her. Show them the right path
for positive spiritual influence and let them develop their own ways.
What might a spiritual curriculum look
like for children? If we want to avoid making our children a clone of
ourselves, one good way is to leave their many questions unanswered.
At the supermarket, seven year old John suddenly asked his father: "Why
are we here?" His father responded that they needed to get dinner.
John quickly clarified that he meant why they were "alive."
The father, too shocked to give a stock or well-thought through response
asked John why he thought they were on earth.
Johnís reply shows that he didnít really expect a pat answer. "I
donít know yet; Iím working on it." A stock answer, no matter how
spiritual in content, may have in fact impeded Johnís further growth.
Why should he find his own answers, when an adult whom he trusts, can
give them to him. Perhaps, in his own way, he did not want an answer,
just "permission" to explore the question.
Another way to help our children is to return the favor, ask them "big"
questions. "What do you think about God?" "What would
make your school, the world, your parents, or the universe better?"
"What would you do if you were the presidentÖ?" "What
is the most important thing about being you?" "Whatís the
most fun?" "Draw what you think a terrorist feels like on
the inside and tell me why?"
Spirituality is not all in the head. Cultivate
your childís imagination, instigate and encourage playtime, and listen
with all your senses. Back rubs or gentle touching before bedtime or
while the child studies is a way of being present without intruding.
Sometimes this may open a door of trust that enables a child to speak
of their deepest concerns or share with you their most guarded spiritual
Nine year old Jesse started crying on the night before his birthday
when father put him to bed and gave him a goodnight kiss. When his father
was able to calm him enough to find out what was bothering him, Jesse
responded that having another birthday meant that he was "another
year closer to death, and it means you are too.
I know thereís such a thing as reincarnation, but I donít want things
to change." His dad did not have perfect verbal response. Instead,
he held Jesse close and cried with him until they both felt better.
Karenís six year old daughter announced one day that she knew she died
in a street fight because sheíd had numerous dreams and waking visions
She included details in her description about which she would have had
no knowledge or exposure in her current life. She then asked her mom;
"What does this mean?" A pat response could close a fertile
mind forever; a better answer is to explore the possibilities together,
leaving ample room for the childís own fancy and interpretation.
Do children serve as spiritual teachers
for adults? If children can be our spiritual teachers, how can we best
instigate the flow of knowledge that they hold within their minds and
hearts? How do we, intentionally and unintentionally, inhibit this flow?
One three-year old taught her mom a game
she said she learned from "an angel" in heaven. The mother
was amazed. It was a game that she had learned many years earlier, from
her own deceased grandmother. Another three year announced, at the dinner
table, that heaven was a fun place but he was glad he was with them.
When they responded that they too were glad, he continued "Yeah,
when I was in heaven I asked God to give me telescope, and I looked
And I said I like her and I like him." The mother responded with
encouragement that that was nice and they knew they were going to have
him. The child quickly replied: Yeah, but this was before you knew Daddy.
I helped bring you guys togetherÖ" This struck a deep chord in
both parents who had a strong sense of their son long before he was
Why is the spiritual nature of children
so important? Canít formal religious instruction suffice? There is something
remarkable about the presence of children in our busy lives. Our hearts
reach out to a child in pain. We gladly touch an infant, if just for
a moment, and feel blessed by the experience. We do silly things to
get a childís attention and our hearts sing if we get an unbidden compliment
from a child. Children open us up to the spiritual nature within ourselves,
a need to love and to be loved.
The great spiritual teacher, Black Elk, put it this way: "Grown
men may learn from very little children, for the hearts of little children
are pure, and, therefore, the Great Spirit may show them many things
which older people miss." Moreover, children seem to awaken within
us the childhood we once enjoyed or perhaps, missed, due to circumstances
beyond our control; the adventure, body wisdom, living and experiencing
Carl Jung stated that "in every adult there lurks a childóan eternal
child, something that is always becoming, is never completed, and calls
for unceasing care, attention, and education. That is the part the part
of the human personality that wants to develop and become whole."
Children take us back and forth on the continuum of discovery; they
are evolutionís angel. When we open to and nourish their natural spiritual
nature, we become part of the wave of evolution, through which eternal
Spirit reveals itself. Let us nurture the secret spiritual world of
children that we may understand our own biggest challenge, the secret
unfolding of our spiritual selves.
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