“A healthy self-concept lays a foundation for a growing ability to be intimate with others and with God.”
Spiritual Growth in Children
Christian education programs are not just for teaching about the Bible, but also for helping others grow spiritually in age appropriate ways. Sometimes it means how we provide the proper environment, sometimes it’s how we communicate our own love of God. Most importantly, teachers need to understand what is developmentally appropriate for the particular age group they are called to minister with.
Infants (1 year and younger)
Be and provide loving caregivers and an environment of trust. Adults are the transitional objects for God as they experience the world. Consistency of who is providing care in your nursery or child care is essential.
Mutuality is the give and take between an infant and an adult which leads to trust. Healthy relationships lead to the basic strength of hope.
Pre-images of faith are nurtured in the “eyes that recognize and the face that blesses” of the parents and significant others who surround the child.
Provide objects and toys to manipulate that show acceptance and patience in the child’s experimentation with them.
Provide experiences that contribute to developing positive qualities.
Early Childhood (2-7 years)
Encourage their questions and curiosities about God and the world. This helps develop a sense of autonomy.
A healthy environment for toddlers provides room for physical movement and choice combined with affirmation and reassuring control. Provide love balanced with consistent discipline (such as wise use of distraction). A healthy self-concept lays a foundation for a growing ability to be intimate with others and with God.
Participation in a community of faith that encourages their presence and leadership contributes to their growing understanding of themselves in relationship to God. Unrealistic demands for a child’s behavior may cause the child to later reject God or to become legalistic in religious practices.
Parents’ religious observances of Christmas, Easter, grace at meals and daily devotions greatly influence the child.
Read and tell stories, especially those with heroes and literal stories of family and self. Include stories about nature, relationships, God and biblical characters with pictures and objects. Be alert to evidence that a child may be focused on something that is causing them fear in the story; provide the comfort needed in response.
Encourage and provide opportunities for dramatic play.
Communicate that although a behavior is unacceptable, the child is accepted and loved.
Older Childhood (7-12 years)
Treat every child equally.
Discover each child’s gifts, affirm them, build their self-esteem.
Include children as much as possible in family life activities.
Provide opportunities for expressing faith through mission and service projects to others.
Sharon Ely Pearson is an editor and the Christian Formation Specialist for Church Publishing Incorporated (CPI). She is the author/editor of several books, most recently The Episcopal Christian Educator’s Handbook and Signed, Sealed, Delivered: Theologies of Confirmation for the 21st Century. When not traveling for work or pleasure, she enjoys tossing tennis balls to her year old black lab, Chobe.