The Gift of Faith

Help your kids understand religion and spirituality.

Passing on Spiritual Values

"Daddy, is God real?" My 6-year-old son, Leo, has a knack for asking questions that require a Google search. But when he tossed this one at me the other day as we played catch in the backyard, I was at a loss for what to say.

"What do you think?" I responded. Leo hesitated for a moment. "I don't think he's real like a tree," he said. "But I think he's real like love." As he tossed the mini football, I marveled at his arm -- and his budding religious awakening.

Spirituality comes naturally to most kids. From a young age, they feel a connection to other living creatures. They have no trouble believing in things they can't see, and they're intrigued by God and religion. Preschoolers think it's fun to say grace before a meal, and grade-schoolers eagerly speculate about whether Max the Gerbil will go to heaven when he dies.

But that doesn't mean kids really understand what religion is all about. "You need to bring spirituality into your everyday life, not just check it off your list when you drop your kid off at Sunday school," says Mimi Doe, coauthor of 10 Principles for Spiritual Parenting. Centuries of experience have shown that a strong spiritual foundation can be central to a happy, purposeful, and ethical life.

For many parents, faith is a clear-cut matter: You may be a born-again Christian, a practicing Catholic, or a reform Jew. But whatever your conviction or denomination, you should think about the spiritual values you want to pass on to your child -- and explain them in a way he can understand. For example, do you think of God as an omnipotent being who guides every action or as one who watches from a distance? Do you believe in preserving your religion's ancient teachings or in adapting them to modern times? Are you more interested in helping other people or in spreading the word?

"For me, spirituality is about finding a connection with God rather than seeking definitive answers to life's mysteries," says Stacey Harrison, who attends a Congregationalist church in Boulder, Colorado, with her two preschoolers. "I want to give my boys a sense of tradition, so they'll have the tools to decide about their own beliefs."

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