Program or Process: Spiritual Development in Kids
By Carla Foote
In the complexities and responsibilities of parenting, it is appealing to think that if we could figure out the right program for parenting, all our problems would be solved. However, I think it is more realistic to think of parenting as a process rather than a program. Especially when it comes to spiritual development!
While it may seem overly simplistic, just spending time talking with children can be a key to their spiritual development. As you talk about the issues of each day, you have a chance to help our children understand life in the context of faith in God. When you talk about a sick friend, that’s a chance to reassure your kids that God cares for the friend. When you talk about the thunder and lightning, talk about the amazing creativity of God.
In the Bible, the Israelites were reminded of this matter-of-fact way of growing in faith. They were told to, “Talk about them (God’s commandments) wherever you are, sitting at home or walking in the street.” (Deuteronomy 6:7, The Message)
This daily interaction in our children’s lives is multiplied over time — that’s the process part of spiritual development. Any “program” for spiritual development might only be one hour 52 times a year. Just think of the power of every day — you have over 1800 days with your child from birth through age 5, and more than 6500 days in 18 years!
What to do daily?
A great place to start is at the family dinner table. Meal time provides a time each day (or at least most days) where the family gathers, takes a moment to pray, eats and talks about the ups and downs of the day.
When your children are preschoolers, family meals may not seem value-infused, but consistency, safety and focus is powerful day after day after day. It is worth the effort of getting children to sit and eat, talk and listen for a few minutes. There is a growing body of research on the value of family meal times in preventing many negative behaviors for children and teens.
Along with eating together, some families read a Bible verse or pray for children in another part of the world. Others emphasize a conversational approach to the events of the day and help children put events in the context of God’s involvement in their lives. Even if each conversation doesn’t seem “spiritual,” the time for relationship, connecting and encouragement become part of the process by which children absorb faith and values.
Jesus used this “daily meal” approach to spiritual development with his followers. Many of the biblical teachings of Jesus take place over dinner with friends, or cooking fish by the lake. He understood the simple but powerful impact of shared time together in building faith.