Children’s Understanding of the Spiritual World

Bringing up children can often be a difficult task with many conflicting opinions and advice being offered to parents trying to do their best by their children. Some things parents do are thoughtful and deliberate, while others become part of family life almost subconsciously. Although Irish society has changed quite drastically in many ways over the last decade or two, many things about human nature and relationships remain essentially the same. In today’s #ThursdayThoughts blog post from Owen Connolly’s book for fathers, we look at the issue of how parents manage the spirituality of their children. Sometimes this can be quite controversial with people, due to the conflicted history of religion and spirituality in Ireland, and people’s differing attitudes to it. How do parents manage the spiritual side of their children in a post-modern world – is there even such thing as a spiritual aspect to life?


Judging by the glut of books and programmes like Harry Potter, The Chronicles of Narnia, and Buffy The Vampire Slayer, it would appear that all children have a fascination with the supernatural. This fascination seems to satisfy their imagination and identifies their need for some form of spiritual understanding. Santa Claus/Christmas, Halloween, and the Easter Bunny have all been forms used to help satisfy the inner desire of the child to have its spiritual need met. Some families introduce their children to a God who is fearful and punishing, and others introduce their children to a God who is all-loving and forgiving. Either way, the child’s image of God will be formed more by the way they see you and how you interact or engage with them, because you are, in effect, their “God” until they get a little older and find their own.

child-prayingThere is evidence to suggest that children who are introduced to the moral teachings of their church fair better than children who have had no spiritual input. If you think about it, most of the laws that are in the western world are based on the morality laws found in most religions of the world, and have been successful in maintaining a form of order and civil justice. Also, the idea of a child understanding the possibility of a power greater than themselves satisfies their hunger for the supernatural and at the same time allows them somewhere to go when they’re alone and feel there’s nobody there for them. As the old adage says, “There are no atheists in a fox hole.” The idea of crying out to God in a crisis is universal, and children need their fears to be met with hope (as we all do!).

When your children engage with any sort of spiritual experience or have a fascination for the supernatural, it is important that you converse with them and present your adult view to them. Their limited library of information about spirituality needs topping up and the best person to instruct the child in the spiritual world is the parent. Also, it’s important that parents don’t assume that their children understand everything that they are watching. They do not take in or see everything that they are watching in the way that you do. Therefore, it is important, when watching any programme or film or reading any book (whatever its content), that you take it as an opportunity for dialogue with your child.

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