Children’s Spiritual Development: An emerging research field Eleonora Papaleontiou –Louca, PhD Associate Professor in Psychology Introduction • “Spiritual development—and its relatives, spirituality, religion, faith, and belief—is one of the awkward issues and a blind spot in children’s development (Roehlkepartain, E. P., Benson, Scales, P., Kimball, L. & Ebstyne King P., 2008). The historic marginalization of religion and spirituality in the social sciences is probably related to the academy’s biases about religion. ……Yet, there is recently a growing recognition that spiritual development is an important, if complex, dimension of life that must be better understood and nurtured within a holistic understanding of youth development” (Roehlkepartain et al, 2008, p.5) • Traditionally, developmental theory has been largely dismissive of the idea that children have genuine spiritual experiences and capacities (e.g., Goldman, 1964; Kohlberg, 1984; Piaget, 1929 ; Wilber, 1996). Children have generally been seen as developmentally immature, without sufficient intellectual growth to manifest anything that might be understood as meaningfully reflective and/or spiritual and were generally considered as deficient in ability to experience spiritual experiences and a relationship with God. Recent Developments in Spirituality • More recent research studies and accounts, however, find that children have innate spiritual capacity and a desire to know more about the mental world and the Divine (Berryman, 1991; Cavelletti, 1992; Hardy, 1979). • Indeed, there is a growing body of evidence documenting spiritual experiences and capacities in childhood (Armstrong, 1985; Hart, 2003; Hay & Nye, 1998; Hoffman, 1992; Piechowski, 2001; Robinson, 1978, 1983) and research in adolescent spirituality and spiritual development has risen dramatically (Bridges & Moore, 2002; Dowling, Gestsdottir, Anderson, von Eye, & Lerner, 2003; King & Benson, 2005; Lerner, 2004; Youniss, McLellan, & Yates, 1999). What is really the case? • Spirituality, is indeed an aspect of human development and overall human health, all but ignored in the annals of child psychology, though, “there is a growing body of evidence documenting spiritual experiences and capacities in childhood (Armstrong, 1985; Hart, 2003; Hay & Nye, 1998; Hoffman, 1992; Piechowski, 2001; Robinson, 1978, 1983 in Hart, 2005,3). • Nevertheless, children, according to Hart (2003) do have a secret spiritual life. They have spiritual capacities and experiences- profound moments that shape their lives in enduring ways. From moments of wonder to finding inner wisdom, from asking the big questions about meaning and life to expressing compassion and even to seeing beneath the surface of the material world, these experiences serve as touchstones for our life as spiritual beings on earth. • But such spiritual awareness is often dismissed , worse, labeled as pathology by adults with no map for understanding them. This “signal” can close down a child and become a barrier in his/her spiritual growth. or What do we mean by ‘Spirituality’? • In spite its subjective, vague, personal, and difficult to articulate nature, spirituality has been defined as meaning making, feelings of connectedness to others, self, and/or a higher power, as well as a processes of searching for meaning and purpose, and the openness to and search for self-transcendence, in which the self is embedded in something greater than the self, including the sacred (Goldestein, 2010, Hart, 2005). • Spirituality refers to one’s engagement with what s/he considers holy, divine, or beyond the material world Miller & Thoresen 2003) and includes reflections on the transcendental and the metaphysical. • It is a sense of where we came from and where we are and where we’re going to (Hart, 2005, 8). ‘Spirituality’ vs. ‘Religiosity’ • Spirituality, morality, religion and ethics are closely linked. • The terms “spiritual development”, “faith development” and “development of religious understanding” have different meanings, but are often used interchangeably. • Religiosity and spirituality are overlapping concepts. In this sense, spirituality represents a personal inner state of being that can be found within or outside the context of religion (Goldestein, 2010, 205-206, Beck, 1986; Canda, 1997; Carroll, 1998; Chandler, Holden, & Kolander, 1992; Cook et al., 2000; Hinterkopf, 1994; Hodge, Cardenas, & Montoya, 2001; Ingersoll, 1994;Pargament & Mahoney, 2002; Shafranske & Maloney, 1990; Westgate, 1996). • Faith and spirituality are NOT mutually exclusive. Perhaps the common denominator and anchor point that can bind religion and spirituality together and at the same time demarcate their differences, is the concept of the sacred. Someone can therefore be: *Spiritual & Religious *Spiritual, but not religious *Religious, but not spiritual *Neither spiritual nor religious (Zinnbauer, 1997) Types of Spiritual Experiences (A) Among others spirituality involves : • Insight, Reflective thought and Curiosity about the world, expressesed in questions such as: Who am I? Why am I here? Where do we come from? What is the meaning of and purpose of life / death? Why should I act rightly? Why is there so much wrong in the world? • Self-transcendence in which the self is embodied in something greater than the self including the sacred; • the search for connectedness to others and to someone greater than the self; • A posture of contribution, generosity and gratitude • Sensing values, ideas about good and evil or what matters; • Experience of mystery, wonder and awe. (Hay & Nye 2006, Margaret Crompton, Beck ,1992 , Benson, 2003) Types of Spiritual Experiences (B) • • • • • • • • • • • understanding, trusting or experiencing God prayer feeling a profound inner peace having inner strength to make it through a difficult time feeling complete joy and ecstasy feeling an overwhelming sense of love and connectedness asking /having a strong sense of meaning and purpose in life forgiveness empathy and compassion wondering and philosophizing / search for insight and wisdom experiences in nature and in community (Roehlkepartain, E. et al, 2008; Hart,2006; Reimer & Furrow, 2001; Büssing, A., Ostermann, T., & Matthiesen, P. F., 2006). Spirituality: In its broader Sense Moreover, spirituality in its broader sense might include: aspirations, moral sensibility, creativity, love and friendship, response to natural and human beauty, scientific and artistic endeavour, appreciation and wonder at the natural world, intellectual achievement, physical activity, surmounting suffering and persecution, selfless love, the quest for meaning and values by which to live. Thus, there appears to be an expression of spirituality which might be appreciated and nurtured in every child. (Roehlkepartain, E et al Young People’s Experiences—and whether they are spiritually meaningful Have Had This Experience . . . Have Never Had This Experience But It Was Not Spiritually Meaningful And It Was Spiritually Meaningful Having inner strength to make it through a difficult time. 22% 39% 38% Feeling a profound inner peace. 24% 40% 36% Feeling complete joy and ecstasy. 20% 48% 33% Feeling an overwhelming sense of love. 26% 44% 30% Experiencing God’s energy, presence, or voice. 51% 19% 30% Experiencing a feeling of emotional closeness or connection to the people around you. 23% 49% 29% Meeting or listening to a spiritual teacher or master. 52% 24% 23% Feeling of being oneness with the earth and all living things. 48% 30% 22% Seeing a miraculous (or not normally occurring) event. 47% 30% 21% Experiencing a healing of your body (or witnessing such a healing). 52% 28% 20% Experiencing angels or other guiding spirits. 68% 17% 15% Encountering a great spiritual figure who is no longer alive. 71% 17% 12% Communicating with someone who has died. 74% 16% 10% (Roehlkepartain, E et al ( 2008), p.1 Positive Correlations Researchers have found positive correlations between spirituality and several positive psychological outcomes (Richards & Bergin, 1997) including self-esteem (Falbo & Shepperd, 1986; Pedersen, 1999; Pedersen, Williams, & Kristensen, 2000), subjective well-being (Diener, Suh, Lucas, & Smith, 1999; Ellison, 1991; Fabricatore, Handal, & Fenzel 2000; Myers & Diener, 1995; Pedersen et al., 2000; Witter, Stock, Okun, Goldstein & Haring, 1985), and physical health (George, Larson, Koenig, & McCullough, 2000;Larson & Larson, 2003; Musgrave, Allen, & Allen, 2002; Pedersen, 1999; Pedersen et al. 2000), mental health and well-being, i.e. any form of belief seems to help patients (Mohr & Huguelet, 2004; Mofidi, Devellis, et al 2006; Mofidi, DeVellis, et al 2007),sense of meaning/ purpose in live, and less chances to engage in at-risk behavior (Davis et al Lack of Spirituality and Negative Correlations In addition, the lack of spirituality in one’s life has been associated with several negative behavioral and psychological outcomes including suicide and anxiety (Baker & Gorsuch, 1982; Davis, Kerr, & RobinsonKurpius, 2003; Gartner, Larson, & Allen, 1991; Sturgeon & Hamley, 1979), depression (Wright, Frost, & Wisecarver, 1993), stress (James & Samuels, 1999), and substance abuse (Hodge, Cardenas, & Montoya, 2001; Maton & Zimmerman, 1992). Spirituality: An Innate Feature? (A) • Spiritual thoughts and feelings are as much a part of the growth process for young children as their physical, mental, or emotional development. •It can be argued that all children have some inherent spirituality which should be considered in order to achieve a truly holistic picture of their developmental needs (Seden, 2005). . According to Hay and Nye (1998) spirituality is innate in children, as is something biologically built into the human species, an holistic awareness of reality which is potentially to be found in every human being (p.57). Spirituality: An Innate /Universal feature? (B) • According to O’Murchu (2000) the interest in spirituality stems from a natural human tendency to seek out the ultimate meaning and purpose of life in a complex universe. • Tacey (2003) also believes that all people, and particularly youth, have an innate spiritual hunger. • Rolheiser (1998) too believes that everyone develops a personal spirituality. He defines this as a sense of who we are, our history and our future. According to this view, spirituality is part of a common human experience. Spirituality: An Innate Feature? (C) • Hart (2003) considers that children are likely to experience spirituality and an intimate knowledge of God, even without any formal religious training. • Hart interviewed more than 100 children and adults about their experiences. The inspiring accounts he reports reveal that often independently of, and sometimes despite, their parents, children enjoy rich and rewarding relations with the spiritual side of life. • He concludes by proposing the encouragement of spirituality in children by recognizing them as complete spiritual beings, and he offers a "spiritual curriculum" intended to nurture a child's personal power and perspective (Donna Chavez). Spirituality and the Brain (A) • Hardy (1979) says the capacity to create a personal spirituality, is in fact hard-wired into the human brain. • More recent work in brain science (Albright & Ashbrook, 2001; Newberg,D’Aquili & Rause, 2001; Ramachandran & Blakeslee, 1998) tends to confirm the Hardy hypothesis. The research shows the brain’s inbuilt capacity to respond to the type of experiences that some might interpret as “religious.” The researchers locate the specific areas of the brain that are affected by spiritual / religious experiences during their occurrence. Spirituality and the Brain (B) Vilayanur Ramachandran 2006), a respected neurologist from the University of California in San Diego, identified with his colleagues a region of the brain that appeared to be closely related to spiritual thoughts. The researchers gave the area in question, which is situated behind the left ear, the catchy name ‘the God module’ (as it appeared to have a noticeable increase in neuronal circuitry and brain activity related to religious experience /words). Children’s Spirituality • Many children actively search for spiritual understanding, beginning at a young age and appear to have an inbuilt curiosity about the world, which expresses itself in wonder and awe and in questions about life, death and their meaning. • Of course, these innate spiritual tendencies of children coexist with immaturity, selfishness, and naïveté. These are developmental capacities whose full potential and meaning may unfold through the course of a life (Hart, 2005). However: • both adults and peers often discouraged spiritual experience; • kids are often very hesitant to speak of such experiences, and • researchers are often biased and /or ignore this aspect of a child's being. • The success of Harry Potter may indicate the way children need to engage with magic, mystery, terror and fantasy. There is a message in these books for parents / teachers about nurturing children’s creativity and their spiritual and imaginative life, fostering in this way, their ability to manage the adversities of life and build emotional resilience. • Similarly, children's thoughts and feelings about God or other spiritual themes appear to be a natural part of human development, a search for some force in the universe that represents eternity and the absence of change. • Research findings also show that adolescence is a religious transitional period, including the search for God (Kirkpatrick & Shaver, 1990). • Even children who are not raised in a religious home are likely to ask spiritual questions. The Right of Spirituality The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC)(1991) accepts spiritual development as a category of human development worthy of protection •Article 27 recognizes “the right of every child to a standard of living adequate for the child’s physical, mental, spiritual, moral and social development”. •Article 17 identifies the right of “access to information and material from a diversity of national and international sources, especially those aimed at the promotion of his/ her social, spiritual and moral well-being and physical and mental health”, and •Article 14 notes “the right of the child to freedom of thought, conscience and religion”. Spiritual and religious rights Spiritual and religious rights include the right to freedom from discrimination in respect of status or beliefs; the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. Children can expect adults to meet their responsibilities towards them to promote their physical, mental, emotional, and social development, including their spiritual needs, according to their developmental age and understanding and the relevant cultural expression of those within their faith communities. Spirituality and morality • All children have a capacity for forming moral judgements. Carl Rogers believed that children and adults are able to reach their full potential as people if the core conditions of warmth, empathy and positive regard are met. This might suggest that children need their spirituality and moral development to be nurtured by empathic adults. • Neglect of childrens' sense of truth, justice or mystery may leave them expressing their terrors and pain in ways which society may find unacceptable. Anger and despair can be expressed outwards, as violence towards others, or can be turned inwards onto themselves, which can result in depression or self-harm. It is therefore important to respect and nurture general spiritual qualities in children and young people rather than to leave a vacuum, which may have unwanted, sad and in some circumstances, tragic consequences. Kohlberg’s Stages of Moral Development: As individuals go through the three levels, their moral thinking becomes more internalized: • Preconventional reasoning: lowest level of moral development; moral reasoning is based on external rewards and punishments- the child has no internalization of moral values, moral reasoning is controlled by external rewards and punishments. • Conventional reasoning: middle level of moral development; children follow some laws and rules simply because they are laws and rules - but these are standards imposed by other people, such as parents, school, or by society’s laws. • Postconventional reasoning: highest level of moral development; reasoning based on personal moral standards- moral development is internalized and not based on external standards. Elkind’s Stages of Faith Development • The "global" stage. Until age 6 or 7, Elkind says, most children lack an understanding of abstract belief, and therefore can't conceptualize the differences between religious faiths. They can appreciate religious symbols and rituals, but won't necessarily connect them to the notion of an "invisible" God. •The "concrete" stage. Children ages 7 to 12 are still very grounded in the concrete, and are beginning to develop a greater sense of spiritual identity based on personal experience and religious practice (e.g. go to church); Identity is linked to activities or church. Elkind says that rituals, such as lighting candles in church are very effective in helping children this age understand religious themes. •The "personal connection" stage. 10-12 years: No longer focus on outward actions and church, but instead to inner beliefs. Religious identity is not just attending church, but involves thinking, choosing, and doctrines/ beliefs. So, in pre-adolescence, a feeling of personal closeness to God often emerges, in the form of an actual relationship. For some young teens, Elkind says, "God becomes a confidante, because you don't want to share your thoughts with anyone else who will tell your secrets." Thus progression moves from confusion, to concrete referents, to more abstract understandings. Fowler's Stages of Faith Development (modified by Thompson and Randall) Stage 0: Undifferentiated (Primal) Faith ( (birth to 2 years). The earliest faith is the fund of basic trust and hope in the care of others. Is characterized by an early learning of the safety of their environment (i.e. warm, safe and secure vs. hurt, neglect and abuse). If consistent nurture is experienced, one will develop a sense of trust and safety about the universe and the divine. Conversely, negative experiences will cause one to develop distrust with the universe and the divine. Faith experience of infancy is built upon secure attachments. A caregiver’s nurturance, protection, and availability provide the basis for the earliest grasp of divine care. Stage 1: Intuitive-Projective Faith (Preschool years) A preschooler’s experience of faith is rooted in the young child’s imagination, intuitive, and conceptual qualities. Faith is magical, imaginative, intuitive, and illogical, filled with fantasy and fascinated by stories of the power of God and the mysteries of birth and death,which are internalized in terms of the concerns of children of this age (e.g. protection from threat, evil, sickness and dependability of adults). This stage is characterized by the psyche's unprotected exposure to the unconscious. Thought and language development facilitate the use of symbols. Stage 2: Mythic-Literal Faith (mostly in school children) Faith is captured in the stories that children hear and tell about God, and the meanings that their literal but logical interpretations of these stories provide about human relations with the divine. Participation in the symbols and observances of the religious community fosters the initial religious beliefs in oneself. In this stage children have a strong belief in the justice and reciprocity of the universe, and their deities are almost always anthropomorphic. Stages of Faith Development (contin.) Stage 3: Synthetic-Conventional Faith (12 yrs to adulthood) Faith is encompassed in a fairly uncritical, tacit acceptance of the conventional religious values taught by others, centred on feelings of what is right and wrong, especially in interpersonal relationships. It is characterized by conformity to religious authority and the development of a personal identity. Any conflicts with one's beliefs are ignored at this stage due to the fear of threat from inconsistencies. Stage 4: Individuative-Reflective Faith (Late adolescence, early adult years) Faith is forged from personal reflection and experiences that may cause the adolescent or adult to question prior assumptions and to reconstruct new and different beliefs and commitments that are more personally meaningful, individualized, and depend less on the guidance of authorities. The individual takes personal responsibility for his or her beliefs and feelings, there is an openness to a new complexity of faith, but this also increases the awareness of conflicts in one's belief. A stage of struggle. Stage 5: Conjunctive Faith (Adulthood) Faith confronts but also accepts the paradoxes and contradictions of religious life: the irrational mysteries of prayer and worship, but also the rational reflections of belief and values, for example. The individual resolves conflicts from previous stages by a complex understanding of a multidimensional, interdependent "truth“. Stage 6: Universalizing Faith (Adulthood) Faith is grounded in universal values and truths – e.g. justice, love, and compassion – that may cause individuals to take unusual (sometimes radical) steps to live out their faith, such as selfless devotion to the poor (as with Mother Teresa) or non-violent (as with Gandhi) or even violent (as with Dietrich Bonhoeffer) resistance to political wrong.. This level of faith development is rarely found. Some might cal it “enlightenment". Trust and Faith • Erik Erikson gave a great attention the potential role of religion and spirituality in development. For example, he suggested that the successful resolution of the first stage of development brings about the virtue of hope, which “is the enduring belief in the attainability of fervent wishes” (1964, p. 118) and consequently of the virtues of ‘hope’, ‘faith’, and ‘trust’… (1964). • Erikson acknowledged that religion can serve throughout the life span as a source of hope. Hopefulness over time is transformed into mature faith, allowing one to believe without concrete ‘evidence’ that the universe or God is trustworthy… Parents Resemble ‘God’ • The parent-child relationship seems a key to understanding children’s experiences of God as loving, powerful, caring, nurturing, punishing, close or distant (Dickie et al, 1997; Tamminen, 1994). • Research shows that child-God and adolescent-God relationships are parallel to attachments to parents and peers. • For example, research showed associations between children’s and adolescents’ images of God as nurturing, caring and loving on the one hand, and nurturing images of parents on the other. (Hertel & Donahue, 1995,Dickie et al, 2004) What we can do? • The evidence of these experiences and innate capacities challenges conventional views of spiritual life in childhood and therefore has significant implications for the care and education of young people. • Schools, together with families should enact activities (e.g., programs) that would provide children with the resources needed to “build and to pursue healthy lives that make productive contributions to self, family, and community” (Lerner et al,2006,70). • Hay and Nye (1998) encourage the introduction of a framework for understanding and exploring spiritual development in child and youth, implementing research and practice that respects the cultural and social diversity of both religious and nonreligious settings and the lifespan developmental processes of children. 10 Ways to Nurture Children’s Spiritual Development (http://www.holistic.com/holistic/learning.nsf) 1. Get outside. Enjoy nature with your child. Sleep under the stars. Get simple. Let nature imprint a feeling of sacredness, spirituality and a sense of wonder. 2. Respect and value your child's spirit. Listen to their innermost thoughts and insights and let them know you value those insights. Help them learn to listen to their own inner voice. 3. Create a bedtime spiritual ritual. It can be talking to God about your day, saying prayers, meditating or chanting together. Let your child see that this routine, which is part of everyday life, is enjoyable and inspiring. 4. Be an example. A wise man from India, Shree Ma, says the mother is the child's first Guru. Let your child see you practicing devotion to God. You are the best example to your child of how to relate to God and make God a part of everyday life. 5. Read spiritual stories to children including the lives of the saints. These stories show people living their lives with love, kindness, compassion and devotion to God. 6. Emphasize compassion and tolerance. Show your child that everyone has good things and bad things about them. When you child points out something bad about a friend. You can listen and then say, "That's true. But you know Sophie also makes you laugh a lot and is very fun to be with." 7. Visit spiritual places - from ashrams to churches. Foster a sense of wonder for these divine and sacred places. Learn to cherish prayer in all its forms and in many different places. 8. Allow your child to be your spiritual teacher. Ask him questions about the big issues of life and listen to his answers. Develop a thoughtful and respectful dialogue with him. 9. Remember you are awakening your child's divinity not creating it. She has come to you as a gift from God and is already very connected to God. You needn't impose your ideas as much as nurture her relationship with God. 10. Teach her the power of prayer. When you see an accident and someone is hurt, rather than becoming afraid, pray with your child. Ask God to send love and light to the injured person and relieve their suffering. Fostering Spiritual Growth in Children, Adolescents & Adults ( Adaptated from Thompson & Randall, 1999) 1.Respect for the ways that spiritual reflection changes with age and growth in thinking, judgment, and personality. This means that the ways that children interpret religious matters are accepted as suitable for their age. 2. Opportunities to participate in religious observances that are calibrated to a child’s capacities for understanding and involvement. This means that children and adolescents have roles that are meaningful to them and respected and recognized by adults within the community. 3. Opportunities for intergenerational involvement in religious activity, as well as activities that are oriented to the interests and needs of children. 4. The growth and maintenance of relationships – particularly within the family – that inspire trust, security, and empathic human understanding. 5. Respect for individuality in spiritual understanding and its development. This means that pathways for growth of faith are individualized based on life experience, individual personality, and how persons interpret their own spirituality. 6. Human support to individuals of all ages during periods of difficulty or crisis, personal despair, or transition during which familiar beliefs may be tested and reconsidered. 7. Acceptance of personal searching as part of the process of spiritual development. This means a willingness by others to engage constructively with the child or adolescent in questioning and exploring more deeply the fundamental beliefs that are held by parents and others in the majority culture, without inspiring fear of rejection, denigration, or expulsion from the family or community. At the same time, encourage children / adolescent to pray for wisdom and divine illumination. Encouraging Spiritual Development through family • Much of the research indicates that the family is central for children’s spiritual development. • Dozens of studies indicate that, in general, church and school have minimal influence unless they build upon religious practices in the home (Hyde, 1990; Roehlkepartain,1993). • The church should have strong programs that build on family education AND provide something for those without family religious practices. Child Theology • Child Theology: Began to emerge in early 2000’s. • Emphasis upon universality of spiritual experience - children of every religion may have such experiences. • A religious belief or affiliation can provide support and/or inner resilience in times of difficulty. • Need to encourage spiritual experiences, which are part of the whole child (an important emphasis today). • Following Christ’s example, who placed a “child in the midst” – we need to center our theology on children. • We need to see children as examples of what we should be, not just use them for cute stories… In Sum • Spiritual development, though a unique stream of human development, cannot be separated from other aspects of one’s being. As John Bradford puts it: “For a human being, especially a child or young person, to have a full quality of life, spirituality in all its aspects must be nurtured and affirmed”( Bradford, 1995). • Therefore, we don’t aim to split the field of child psychology into intellectual and spiritual enterprises; but to try to shed light on the diverse ways in which children experience spiritual life, to help us recognize and facilitate the innate spiritual capacities they have, and view their development and their problems in a holistic way. • A thorough understanding of a normative child and adolescent development and family life is a necessary precursor to assessing and treating concerns about atypical development or other pathologies. This same premise holds true in the area of normative faith and spiritual development (Dell & Josephson, 2006). Concluding • Available research suggests that spirituality does have a powerful effect in life. Spirituality has been found to be inversely related to numerous negative outcomes and positively associated with numerous positive outcomes (Roehlkepartain et al 2006). • Competent, confident, committed, connected, caring children, who also possess character will have the moral orientation and the civic attitude to use their skills to enact in themselves - behaviorally, morally, and spiritually to a better world beyond themselves. Such individuals will act to sustain for future generations a society marked by social justice, equity, and democracy and a world in which all people may thrive (NCFY, Lerner et al, 2006,70-71). References • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • Albright C.R. & Ashbrook J.B. (2001). Where God Lives in the Human Brain (Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks. Beck, U. (1992). Risk society: Towards a new modernity. London: Sage. Benson, P. L., Roehlkepartain, E. C., & Rude, S. P.(2003). Spiritual development in childhood and adolescence: Toward a field of inquiry. 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