Children, just like adults, can have spiritual thoughts and feelings.

Spiritual Development in Young Children

by Scott Thompson

Whether your family adheres to a specific religious tradition, embraces atheism or falls into the growing category of "spiritual but not religious," your child will develop his own sense of spirituality over time. Children can express opinions about spiritual topics from a very young age, often echoing what their parents believe while also adding their own ideas.

1. Spirituality and Religion

Spirituality can be defined as thoughts and feelings about the meaning of life and the universe and the individual's place in the world. A religion could be defined as a set of shared spiritual ideas and practices. A project called the Search Institute conducted a study of 7,000 people between the ages of 12 and 25 from multiple countries, religions and belief systems, including all of the major religions, atheism and minority faiths. The participants in the study reported having gone through a process of a spiritual development beginning in childhood. In a 2012 article published in the "Journal of Positive Psychology," researchers concluded that people throughout the world go through a process of spiritual development regardless of their belief system.

2. Early Beliefs

An article on spiritual development by the National Center for Cultural Competence describes young children as being reluctant to question or criticize what their parents believe about spirituality because of fear of disapproval. In this early stage of spiritual development, the children of Christian parents are likely to express ideas about spirituality based on Christian beliefs, while the children of atheist parents are likely to express disbelief in any god. However, children begin to explore their own beliefs about spiritual questions as they grow and are exposed to different ideas.

3. New Ideas

According to the National Center for Cultural Competence, no society in the world is home to a wider variety of spiritual and religious beliefs than the United States. Because of this diversity of opinions, children are exposed to many viewpoints and ideas other than those of their parents as soon as they start spending time outside the home. Comparing the beliefs of their parents with those of other people is part of the process of spiritual development for American children. A study conducted at the Eliot-Pearson Children's School at Tufts University found that even kindergartners were already talking with each other about the origin of the world, what happens after death and the problem of evil.

4. Personal Spirituality

As children grow and exchange ideas with each other, they often develop their own ideas about spirituality. For example, one of the children in the Eliot-Pearson Children's School study expressed a belief in two gods, one good and one bad. This dualistic explanation of the world satisfied the child's need to explain why bad things sometimes happen. While many children grow up to embrace the religious tradition they were raised in, the process of developing a personal spirituality seems to be universal. For kids raised in a traditional religion, personal spirituality is defined by the beliefs of that religion, such as developing a relationship with God. For kids who are not raised in a traditional religion, the development of a personal spirituality can be a lifelong process of exploring different ideas.

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