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Spiritual development varies by age

Posted January 8, 2009

Toddlers/Preschool

For this age group, Teresa Greco, licensed clinical social worker and child psychologist at Lucy Daniels Center Family Guidance Service in Cary, recommends teaching manners and sharing.

“Young children are developmentally selfish and aren’t good at sharing, but early modeling is the key to developing empathy,” she says.

The following activities can build caring and nurturing:

  • Help your child care for a small pet.
  • Make a card for a sick playmate.
  • Bake cookies or deliver gifts to a neighbor or friend. Take your child along to experience the feelings associated with a good deed.

Spirituality in children 4 and younger begins with feeling safe and nurtured by more than one person and learning to trust, hope and survive challenges, according to Tryst Chagnon, director of religious education at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Raleigh.

Elementary school

Elementary school-aged children are concrete thinkers and are judgmental by nature, Greco says. She recommends talking more directly with them about different spiritual and moral perspectives.

  • Explain and discuss your views about spirituality if a pet or loved one dies.
  • Take your children with you to volunteer activities.
  • Expose children to different worldviews and cultural events.
  • Encourage problem-solving and conflict resolution.

Young school-aged children develop understanding about what religious community means by participating in it, Chagnon says. They are beginning to explore religious questions and like stories that inspire wonder.

It is important for middle- to upper-elementary-aged children to know the core stories of their society, family and congregation, Chagnon says. They’re interested in learning about religious ideas and identifying with others.

Middle school/High school

Preteens and teenagers are beginning to think more abstractly. Greco recommends discussing “hot topics” like war, poverty and dating violence.

  • Talk about and explore the complexity of events in the media or problems with a peer. Incorporate your values, but allow your children to express their views and values.
  • Encourage volunteer activities.
  • Encourage and tolerate their experience of different perspectives, religions, cultures and worldviews.
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