Spiritual Development in Children

“Is God bigger than a dinosaur?”

 “Where did I come from?”

 “Where did Maggie go?” (asked by five-year olds after they had been told a pet dog had died and been buried)

As evidenced by the above questions, young children also actively question and seek to understand their place in the world and the workings of life around them. These questions are sometimes triggered by an experience and sometimes emerge from children’s own reflections, suggesting that engagement at this level of meaning-making is a pan cultural developmental experience.

A comprehensive study of a child’s religious and spiritual development requires investigating the diverse array of children’s spiritual experiences and children’s phenomenological understanding of those experiences. For example, children’s spiritual development may include (but is not limited to) development of a spiritual sense, moral reasoning, religious identity, understanding of the existence of God and God-concepts, relationships with the divine, experiences of transcendence, acquiring of religious beliefs, learning and performing religious practices, entering religious communities, and negotiating relations between the self and others.

Factors that Matter –

To effectively study children’s spiritual and religious development requires an interdisciplinary approach, that considers both macro-contextual factors, such as shared and diverse narratives, theologies, origins, and histories, as well as micro-contextual factors, such as individual families’ approaches to faith practices and interpretations, as well as children’s own interpretations and conceptualizations of such practices, including their own affective responses to and choices to engage in, question, or reject such practices and interpretations.

As a result, the context for children’s religious and spiritual development is mediated by how parents, and other adults and institutions in the life of the child, channel children’s experiences to meet particular religious/spiritual goals and expectations. A holistic account of children’s positive development requires investigating the mosaic of traditional, collective, and individual religious/spiritual experiences and socialization goals created, assumed, and implemented in the context of children’s lives.

James Fowler developed a faith development theory based on the notion of discontinuous stages of spiritual development. In his models, children are acknowledged as having the capacity to progress from concrete to abstract thinking as they mature. Fowler situates the stages of spiritual development within these developmental models, suggesting that, as children mature, they have an increased ability to become more aware and engaged with their spirituality.


If you found this post interesting, you would also like — Understanding Spirituality in Children.


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