This is the first in a series of blog articles on spiritual development in children. As an addiction specialist, family therapist and a father, I have learned that the spiritual health of children is of paramount importance to them becoming happy, well-adjusted adults and is often key to preventing substance abuse.
My premise here is that “spirituality” means having a connection with something bigger than yourself that makes you feel calm, centered, intuitive and connected. We also will assume that a piece of this higher energy resides in each person waiting to be nurtured. Spirituality can exist in any religious practice. A religious process can be helpful if it allows the person to be open to their own inner connection with the Divine.
The Connection Between Spirituality and Addiction
As stated in other blogs I’ve written about alcoholism and addiction, it has clearly been proven to be genetic in origin. There are many research studies in the last decade that have provided ample evidence to support a biochemical marker for addiction. Equally as important, is that there is now research that shows children raised in a spiritually healthy home learn the coping skills needed to help them meet the challenges they face as adults, including substance abuse. There is also a strong indication that the genetic pre-disposition for addiction can be kept at bay with children who have a healthy spiritual education to draw from. Makes sense, as it is already a well-known fact that adults who become active addicts are able to recover when they become willing to learn healthy spiritual practices.
Spirituality in Children
Recently I discovered several publications that proposed how important it is for each of us to have a spiritual life. If we have a spiritual life and can learn ways of passing that spirituality on to our children, then we will be able to raise children who already possess the life skills conducive to living a sober life. In addition, research over the last decade has shown that children who have developed a spiritual life are less depressed, more mentally healthy and well-adjusted adults. They also have greater resilience when it comes to solving problems in life separate from substance abuse. In my opinion therefore, a spiritual connection correlates directly with being well-adjusted and addiction free adults, even in those who have a genetic pre-disposition.
Those are significant findings! Can you imagine that just simply being able to help our children actualize a spiritual strength, their adult lives can be so much better? And that spiritual teachings can create such strength in our children that as adults they have a distinct purpose that can guide them in their life’s work?
As the parent of three incredible souls, it is clear to me that my children arrived here with the seeds of a good spiritual future. Each of my three children show the qualities that I’ve learned as an adult through my own personal recovery from addiction. The “wee ones” arrived possessing genuine wonder, plenty of curiosity and a pure capacity for joy. These qualities in my opinion clearly indicated that they had a deep connection with the whole of creation. In essence, they are connected through innocence to the Oneness with something much greater than all of us regardless of what you choose to call it – God, The Universe, Source Energy, etc.
My perception is that children are not “blank slates,” but are already marvelous beings that just need to be nurtured and encouraged first and foremost. Through our love and compassion, we as parents can help our children blossom.
How Can You Help Your Child Develop a Spiritual Life?
Recognize that your children already have a spiritual awareness when they enter this world. Children have a rich imagination and are innocent in their view of the world. They are naturally inquisitive and easily able to access their intuition, and all of this allows them to be open with awe and wonder. They are born with a natural compassion and kindness. These are the things at the root of a good healthy spiritual life as an adult.
The truth of this natural spirit existing at birth can be seen by just watching and listening with the “new eyes” we all once had as a child. Try and remember some of your own moments of wonder as a child. For example, I once saw some sun beams coming from behind a cloud when I was eight and I recall saying “oh that’s what God looks like!” At that moment I felt connected to everything and the experience brought me complete joy and peace.
- Expose Your Children to Others Who Are Calm, Positive and Inspiring Influences
Just as when you believe your child has the ability and interest to be a great scholar, baseball player, dancer, artist, etc., you wisely elicit the help of experienced, mature people that are skilled in these interests to mentor your child. So, it makes sense then that we expose our children to spiritually mature people who are kind, compassionate, and centered to mentor them spiritually. Even children who grow up in a harsh environment can thrive when exposed to these kinds of people because the development of the spiritual life is so important in the development of resilience, maturity and coping skills.
- Take Time to Fall into Your Child’s World
What I mean by this is that in a non-judgmental and open-minded way, listen to your child at play or during bedtime stories. Decades of evidence speaks to the positive results of accepting a child as they are currently. Be present and believe in the natural wisdom of a child to participate in their own development.
- Believe Your Child Already Has Good Intuition
Children have a resilience, but also a natural wisdom that they possess at birth. A therapist friend of mine likes to say, “puppies and children are OK until we mess them up!”
- Value and Trust Their Ideas
By accepting your child’s ideas as they are, regardless of how far out they seem, is actually showing your child genuine acceptance. You can help by expressing other ways of thinking and seeing a particular situation, or solution to a problem in a different light. Never try and force your own ideas. When we listen with a positive regard, we are using our most powerful way to parent.
Value their ideas and their description of the world even though it may sound completely weird. View them as coming into the world with a very positive core, and they just need for us to help develop and build on their nature. Developmental psychology tells us that the fantasy world of children, even though it may seem bizarre at times, is an extremely important part of their development. That includes their character development. It’s sometimes a real challenge as parents not to judge. However, accepting and gently nudging them in a better direction is the key.
- Create Quality Time
In my studies and my experience, another tool we have as parents is offering quality time. By quality time I mean at least several times a week regularly where we give our children our undivided attention. Time to listen, laugh and play with love!
- Shelter Them from Toxic People
This seems like a no brainer, but I still think it’s worth mentioning. We need to watch closely who enters our children’s lives and the type of influence they have on our children. Toxic, critical or intrusive people are not healthy for our children and must be asked to step away. Even though this may be uncomfortable, do it anyway.
- Have Fun
Recently I visited my daughter, her husband and my grandson. What a delight he is to just be around! When he laughs a belly laugh as we play with him, the energy in the whole room changes. Everybody in the room becomes a little child again, full of joy and happiness. Experiencing extreme joy with safe people is important for our children, and it’s good for us too!
- Know Yourself Well Enough to Recognize Your Own Inner Critic
Any criticism that I have against my children is usually one that I would give myself and probably have. Looking at ourselves and dealing with our own inner critical voice greatly diminishes the likelihood we will pass it on to our children.
Paying attention to our children’s spiritual development with care and acceptance greatly improves the likelihood that they grow up to be well-adjusted adults. Well-adjusted adults come from homes where their spiritual life was treated with respect and encouraged. And, of course, children who grow up in a home with healthy spiritual parents become capable adults and have a much less likelihood of becoming addicted.
Here's some more information that may be of interested to you:
Why Are Teens & Young Adults So Susceptible to Drug Use?
Talk to Your Children About Drugs Before It’s Too Late
What Causes Addiction?
Are Trauma & Addiction Connected?
How Do You Know If You Have a Drinking Problem?
Could Your Brain be Wired for Alcoholism?
If you or a loved one may be struggling with addiction, it is very important for you to seek out professional help as soon as possible. Please do not hesitate to reach out to me if I may be of assistance to you or your loved ones. My website provides more information on my practice and how to contact me with questions or take advantage of a free 20-minute phone appointment.
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