A spirited bunch

When we allow our children to ask freely, explore widely and always wonder, we’re naturally stimulating their curiosity, resilience and sense of awe.

I remember vividly when my then three-year-old son mentioned death for the first time. “When you and Dad die, you can later become babies and we will meet again.” How did he invent that story? What did he mean? I had no idea. But I loved his creativity and openness to the unknown facts of life.

Since becoming a mother, I have experienced my own version of a ‘spiritual awakening’. Granted, there were no shooting stars, fireworks or spirits that materialised. I just realised that I am part of something bigger and wiser, and this was indescribably soothing. I never found as much consolation in formal religious practices as I did when reading books by Eckhart Tolle, Rumi or Ram Dass. It was just as Zen master and Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh said: “There is no enlightenment outside of daily life”. As it turns out, the best spiritual teachers have been living right in my house – my kids.

Yet, what is spirituality? As Dr Lisa Miller, a prominent American psychologist, Columbia University professor and author of The Spiritual Child: The New Science on Parenting for Health and Lifelong Thriving, explains: “Spirituality is a natural, biologically driven experience for children and the central organising principle of inner life”.

In her book, Miller argues that we are all ‘hardwired’ for a spiritual connection. What she means is that even babies are born spiritual – so naturally connected to the transcendent: nature, rituals, dreams, empathy and mystical experiences. That’s why they love fairy tales, imaginary trips to the stars and the Moon, and talking about what happened before they were born.

What’s more, a growing body of neurological, sociological and psychological research links spirituality with a series of long-term benefits. A study at Columbia University’s Teachers College found that spiritually connected teens are 60 percent less likely to suffer from depression and 40 percent less likely to abuse alcohol or other substances than other teens. Teen girls who described themselves as ‘spiritual’ were 80 percent less likely to engage in unprotected sex. Some forms of spirituality – for example, meditation – contribute to positive changes in the brain regions associated with memory, sense of self, empathy and stress. Miller says: “When spiritual growth is supported, children and teens thrive.”

Dr Kori Nemme, an Australian researcher of creativity and spirituality, relishes spiritual moments with her children, the existential questions her five-year-old asks, and her theories on people and the world. “We need to recognise spirituality as an all-encompassing part of our children’s selves. The realities of fast foods, electronic media and the current pace of living can be toxic to children’s development, requiring them to demonstrate inner strength and resilience. I believe that to experience a spiritual life is the right of every child,” Nemme says.

In her book, The IDEA (or the inevitable and wonderful cycle of creative existence), Nemme tells the story of a young girl on a soul-searching journey towards creative and spiritual fulfilment. “For everyone, having ideas, moving with them, and making things happen offers a sense of connection to self, others and the world around you. It’s the nexus where creativity and spirituality meet,” she explains.

In our mundane day-to-day reality filled with commercialism, chores and screens, how do we enhance our little humans’ connection to the unknown?

Create a sanctuary All kids need a nurturing home environment with access to quiet areas, their own space and nature. Show them how important it is to ‘just be’ – sitting in silence, pondering or even getting bored.

Practise open discussions with your child Answer their questions, whenever and wherever they want – so also during car trips and dinner times – and value their uniqueness. Never judge. As Lisa Miller writes, “You don’t have to agree with your child, just be interested, curious and open to their ideas”.

Enjoy slow crafts together “Create. Anything,” Nemme highlights. Some slow ideas? Drawing pictures of your future selves. Sewing costumes for role play. Face painting. Making DIY Play-Doh (so therapeutic!).

Be honest, authentic and vulnerable Don’t be scared to talk about your own beliefs or reminisce about that time you felt as though you failed. Never sugar-coat di­fficult emotions in front of your children.

Let them explore nature Go for local walks with a pen and paper handy, and take note of all the wonders of the natural world: plants, rocks, ants, bees, birds.

Stay WONDER-ful Feel the awe and wonder of the universe. Watch the sun rise, breathe in the night air under a blanket of stars, look at old photos, read and reflect on morals, dance, and cook your favourite meals – together.

Alex Reszelska

Alex Reszelska is a Sydney-based, Polish-born writer, journalist and Japanologist.

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