If you are a parent, you are your child’s first spiritual teacher, just as your parents were yours. This is true even if your parents saw themselves as non-spiritual or raised you to mistrust spirituality. In cases like these, it had some influence on the way your spiritual path has unfolded and on how you view the world today. Without a doubt, the decisions we make regarding how spirituality will be presented to our children have profound consequences. If we are too heavy-handed with it, the child may feel resentment. If we neglect it too much, the child may feel a lack of direction or meaning in life. So, what should we as parents do?
Help Them Keep Their Minds Open
Every child is a clean slate. Because they have not had any time to pick up damaging preconceptions and biases, their minds are free to see the world clearly. In this regard, I recommend doing whatever you can to help your child keep this open mindedness. Too often, parents want children to adopt their set of beliefs and opinions without question. The process of enlightenment, however, means dropping preconceptions and biases, so the best thing you can do for your child is to allow them to follow their own investigations about the meaning of life, rather than suggesting to them that only your way is right.
Of course, ultimately, your children will develop beliefs about the world based on their experience of it. This is completely normal for the human brain, which is sometimes called a “meaning making machine.” They must form these beliefs because it is how the brain makes sense of the world. Some of these beliefs will be limiting or false, and the child will go through the process of discovering higher truths, just as you did. By providing an environment where free expression and spiritual exploration is encouraged, you can help make this process much less painful.
But what if you wish your child to follow a particular spiritual tradition? What if this is important to your family or culture? If this is case, I recommend exposing the child to these spiritual elements without forcing the child to accept or embrace anything. Just make learning fun, and the child will be naturally curious.
Let Nature Be a Teacher, TooNature is also a spiritual teacher because it holds within it all the laws of the universe. Children are naturally curious about nature, so it makes sense to make nature an important part of their spiritual education. As they spend time in nature, children automatically learn the very important lessons about life. Through nature, people may feel oneness with all of creation, and they can tap into their own true nature.
The best part is that it is already prepared for you to use as a parent. There’s nothing you must do to make nature a spiritual experience for children. Just get them out there to experience it. While you’re out there with them, ask them about what they are feeling and observing. As they experience it, they will naturally learn reverence and respect for the earth. As they hike and play in nature, show them how to do so without harming it. Also, point out to them the subtle beauties of the natural world, like the beautiful shape of a flower or the sound of the wind rushing through the trees.
Teach Them by Example
In the human brain, there is a kind of neuron called mirror neurons. These allow us to learn by watching others. Children have an especially high number of these, which makes learning by example automatic for them. So, always remember that your children are learning as they watch you. Really, every choice you make is a spiritual example to children. Ask yourself what they might be learning from you that you might not intend. Do you anger easily or berate others in front of them? Do you forgive other people easily or do you hold many grudges? Do you complain or express gratitude more often? These behaviors all send messages to your children about ways of being in the world.
Remember Their Future
In work I have done as an educator, I have met many adults that feel hurt by the spiritual teaching they received as a child. That’s why I recommend a gentle approach. Avoid pushing your child toward any form of spirituality. Also, avoid reducing spiritual concepts down to a matter of right and wrong; this teaches them to judge themselves and others, rather than to love other people.
Finally, don’t forget that your child’s spirituality is like an acorn—the great oak is already there inside of it. There’s nothing you must do to make your child into a spiritual being. He or she already is that. Instead, find ways to allow your child’s natural spirituality to bloom in its own way and at its own time.