Children are inherently spiritual beings; we see this in the way they live their lives and interact with the world around them. They run freely, laugh loudly, and they enjoy their time in nature. Children don’t view the world through the jaded lens of an adult. To a child, their loving and accepting spirit welcomes all that welcomes them. 

A child’s curiosity is endless, and questioning the world around them allows space for lessons in spirituality and religion – we need to foster these qualities. Although it can be difficult for a parent, it is important to see children as independent from ourselves and indulge their curiosity. It allows them to explore spirituality and find what resonates with them without the interference of what a parent may find resonates with them. 

The Importance Of Encouraging Children To Explore

Gogo Dineo Ndlanzi, a traditional healer, has an interesting view on children and spirituality, she says that children choose their parents to help them attain their goals in this realm. Therefore, she says: 

“you should create a foundation of principles that will enable them to flourish within their unique, spiritual DNA, to help them understand there are many paths to their destination.”

Gogo Dineo says this is why holding a safe space is important for children to self-actualise and become who they are meant to be without our biases. Gogo Dineo reminds us that children aren’t without understanding – 

“They might lack life experience, which we have, but they’ve got an intelligence that we have forgotten since becoming programmed and conditioned to see things as black and white. Children see, hear, and feel the shades of grey.” 

Children are often highly sensitive and emotional, full of empathy – if we consider the way children react to the death of an animal. They will instinctively want to honour the spirit of the dead animal they have found with some sort of ceremony. It is vital that we don’t mock their processes and allow them to feel their feelings and work through them to create an emotionally sound next generation. A new generation wherein it is acceptable for a man to cry and be sensitive, often we shame this out of boys at an early age, inadvertently stunting their growth and emotional intelligence. 

Multidisciplinary artist Maite Z. Alday says that parents need to understand how they define spirituality for themselves, reflect on what questions they have, what biases they might have, and/or where there are gaps in their knowledge. 

‘’For parents who are committed to a specific religious or spiritual practice, I’m guessing most want their kids to follow in their footsteps. But if their kids convert to another religion or lean more agnostic or atheist, can they respect their children’s decision? I hope the answer is “yes” especially if the core principles are still the same,’’ Alday elaborates. 

Alday also shares that her 25-years-old son identifies as atheist. Spirituality for him is more about everyday human kindness vs. arguing if there is/isn’t a God. 

‘’I really respect his perspective and he actually helped me to expand my idea of spirituality,’’ adds Alday. 

Reflecting On Our Biases As Parents And Caregivers

Gogo Dineo suggests self-reflection is important in order to provide a space that is safe and accommodating, “it’s important not to teach our kids by instilling fear and making threats because we create an illusion that we are separate from Modimo le badimo (Creator and ancestors).” Often, we are just re-enacting what we know and what we know can be extremely closed off, and fear-based. It leaves very little room for children to just be and smell the roses as they do when we are parenting from a place of immense fear and pain. Our fear and pain get projected onto our children in the same cycles that exist in our society.

According to Alday, what’s harmful to a child is when there’s no room for questions or differing opinions. 

‘’I think we need to allow for free expression – even if it questions our core beliefs. There’s no guarantee that my child will grow up with the same definition of kindness and compassion, but I have to try anyway. At the end of the day, isn’t it our role as parents to be guides and help our children discover (not dictate) who they’re supposed to be in this world?’’ Alday further explains. 

Guiding Our Children’s Spiritual Inclination

Pastor Matlhogonolo Maboe gives exceptional insights by saying that often as adults we stifle children because of our biases. 

She says, “I believe that we need to build relationships with our children by spending time with them, to help them learn – it allows us to get to know the uniqueness of each child. By giving a child a sense of belonging and encouraging them to express themselves freely.” 

Pastor Matlhogonolo feels that it is important as a caregiver to provide a space of belonging and that there is an environment of mutual trust and respect, she says with certainty that that way “a child will feel true to themselves and it will promote the nurturing of spirituality. But we must be open-minded and allow them to discuss without imposing ourselves onto them”. It is important to encourage children to figure things out and see what makes them feel at peace or what gives them comfort and joy. It is an exercise that a child should be allowed to do on their own – freely and without judgements placed onto them. 

Alday raises the following questions to parents regarding guiding their children’s spiritual journey:

‘’I would hope that parents give their children the freedom to choose but first, I think parents need to be honest with themselves about where they are on their own spiritual journey. Do they feel grounded, lost and still searching, or still healing? How do we, as parents, pass on what we don’t have? I try to teach my son about different religions and beliefs and have told him, “I give you permission to question what you’re hearing.” I hope that by giving my son both a foundation and freedom, that as he gets older, he’ll find something that feels right for him and a community where he feels like he belongs,’’ shares Alday. 

Empowering The Child 

It remains a golden thread throughout the conversation with both Gogo Dineo, Maite Z. Alday, and Pastor Matlhogonolo: for us to have well-rounded adults, we need to nurture their curiosity as spiritual beings when children are young. We should be mindful not to try and steer children into our spiritual paths only because it stifles their growth and possibilities. 

We need to be open, honest, and understanding that children are able to discern what feels wholesome for their spirits. We have to keep them safe but still allow the parameters for exploration. Allowing children, particularly in a wounded nation like South Africa, to explore and tap into their spirituality may be the trick we need to heal the generational trauma we all hold. It allows them to be who they truly are in place of what has been imposed on us for generations and facilitates a healthier future. 

We need to just step in the cracks – and hold space for our children to grow.