Shape Your Child’s Spiritual Life

March 19 2015 | by

SCRIPTURE stresses the importance of the role of parents in shaping a child’s spiritual life at the earliest stages. Proverbs 22:6 teaches: “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not turn from it.” Deuteronomy also urges parents to utilize their understandings of God and “impress them on your children” (Deuteronomy 6:7). Behind these exhortations is the realization that children begin life with an internal sense of wonder and awe about their world. They are naturally intuitive and open to spiritual matters. Here are a few ways to advance your child’s spiritual life.


Never too early


Among some Christians it is common to recite the Lord’s Prayer to a child before it is an hour old. Other Christians quietly whisper a simple prayer-affirmation to their children even in the earliest moments and months. Here is one example of such a prayer-affirmation. While gently holding an infant or very young child offer this simple prayer: God made you. God loves you. God keeps you. Remind yourself that a child’s spiritual education can, and ought to, begin at the earliest stages.


Be a role model


Positive role modeling was instrumental in having Timothy become one of the most influential leaders of the Early Church. Writing to Timothy, the Apostle Paul said, “I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also” (2 Timothy 3:3-4). Be the best possible role model you can be for your children. Let your values and virtues be seen by your children through your words and actions. “Children will invariably talk, eat, walk, think, respond, and act like their parents,” notes Billy Graham. “Give them a target to shoot at. Give them a goal to work toward. Give them a pattern that they can see clearly, and you give them something that gold and silver cannot buy.”


Practice silence


Scripture reminds us: “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10), and “Be still before the Lord” (Psalm 37:7). Children should be encouraged to cultivate silence and stillness in order to become more spiritually aware. Educator David Carroll, author of Spiritual Parenting, offers these tips for introducing young minds to turning inward and to the discipline of sitting still:

  • Institute the first sessions of quiet time when the child is very young, preferably beginning when a child nears his or her fourth birthday.

  • The first quiet time should run no more than thirty seconds to one minute. Even a four year old can handle that length of silence.

  • Do this four times a week and keep at it consistently. That way a child will come to expect the quiet time and eventually look forward to it. “That way the meditative habit becomes incorporated into a child’s life in a natural way,” Carroll says.      


Teach prayer


As soon as children can understand language, teach them how to pray. Initially these can, and must, be brief. For example, upon seeing a new flower emerging, offer this type of prayer with your child: “Thank you God for this beautiful flower.” If you have a beloved family pet, pause with you child to pray: “Thank you God for our dog. Bless him/her.” Similarly, a child can offer a quick prayer for a sick friend: “Dear God, please heal my friend Sandy.” In order to teach children prayer, one family created their own family prayer book. In it are written many personal and individual prayers prepared by various family members. Their family prayer book also includes some traditional and favored prayers, such St. Francis’ prayer: “Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace…”; the 23 Psalm and the Lord’s Prayer, both copied in an elegant calligraphy.


Tell stories


Our Catholic tradition is full of stories designed to explain everything from how the world was created to why people sometimes do bad things. Read stories together from an illustrated Bible or a collection of stories of saints for kids, amending and simplifying as you see fit. Reading such stories will give your child the opportunity to ask questions – if not now, when they get older.

Moreover, keeping a variety of Catholic books around the house will invite your children to learn more about their faith. Read them together, or just allow your children to explore the books on their own.


Worship with them


Children’s experience of worship is greatly deepened when parents are involved rather than simply dropping them off at Sunday School or youth group. Let regular worship be an affair of the entire family. Then, following worship, invite each family member to share what they saw, experienced and learned.


Stewardship of creation


 “Like all loving relationships, our bond with the earth is nurtured in many little ways,” writes Jean Grasso Fitzpatrick, author of Something More: Nurturing Your Child’s Spiritual Growth. “Together we set aside time to collect newspapers for recycling, remember to turn off the lights when we leave a room, and limit our use of unnecessary packaging. Sometimes we walk instead of taking the car. Small efforts at stewardship such as these may not transform the world overnight. But day by day, they remind us that our family home is very much part of our planetary home.


Daily spiritual habits


Each day in the life of any family provides ample opportunities to promoting daily spiritual habits. Some ways to do this include:

  • Offering a prayer of thanks for a healthy body as a child showers or brushes his/her teeth each morning.

  • Silently thanking God each time they get on and off a school bus for reliable and safe transportation to and from school.

  • Expressing gratitude to God for friends at school and caring teachers.

  • Whispering a prayer of appreciation before they begin an after school activity (soccer, baseball, gymnastics, ballet, etc).

  • Praying whenever they hear a siren, asking God to bless everyone involved in an emergency – police, fire fighters, medics, accident victims.   

Engaging in these types of spiritual acts will ensure that they become routine, and automatically connect a child to God.



Observe them


Be aware and observant of your children’s words, actions and values. Pay attention to how they treat friends, adults, strangers and animals. If it appears they need help to move in a different direction, simply but promptly bring it to their attention. Another effective way to provide correction is by quietly but obviously modeling the behavior you want them to embrace. Treat animals with kindness, pick up litter when you come across it, speak courteously to everyone, show respect to people from all walks of life.


Fruits of the Spirit


The Apostle Paul writes, “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22). Use your child’s daily experiences to flush out these spiritual qualities. For example, if you are in a grocery line and the person behind you has only a few items, allow that person to move ahead of you. This way you show your child both patience and goodness. Or, if your child alerts you that another child at school is being ridiculed, comment on how sad and lonely that child must feel. This way, you may elicit kindness and goodness from your child toward a school mate. Or, if a car in front of you is driving very slowly, explain that it may be a student driver or someone new to the area and uncertain about their destination. That response helps a child better understand and utilize a gentle, peaceful approach to car travel.


See God in nature


In the Bible we learn that God’s voice was heard in a burning bush (Exodus 3) and through the clouds (John 3:17). Psalm 139 expresses awareness of God in the ‘heavens,’ during the rising of the dawn, and on the ‘far side of the sea.’ Empower your child to see the Divine in nature. Like the psalmists, children who sense the wonder will also share in the wonder.


The Golden Rule


“In everything, do to others what you would have them do to you,” taught Jesus in Matthew 7:12. So important is this fundamental principle of the spiritual life that David Carroll urges parents to “write it in bold letters. Frame it. Hang it up on the child’s bedroom wall. Have children write the words out. Suggest they give copies to others. Encourage children to commit it to memory. Recite it before the child goes to sleep at night. Say it aloud to children from an early age; explain it in detail. Whenever you see or hear your children acting unkindly, remind them that they don’t like to be treated badly themselves – so why treat others this way?”


Pray for them


Pray daily for your children, that, like Jesus, they will grow “in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men” (Luke 2:52). You can model your prayer after that of Jeremy Taylor, who offered this prayer for children: “Bless our children with healthful bodies, with good understandings, with the graces and gifts of thy Spirit, with sweet dispositions and holy habits; and sanctify them throughout in their bodies, souls and spirits, and keep them unblameable until the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Or consider the example of Rita Snowden, who began to pray for her child before it’s birth: “O God, it might seem odd to some to pray for someone not yet born – but not to you and me… I rejoice that the fashioning of a baby, and the founding of family, requires the gifts of body, mind and spirit you have given to each of us. Bless these days of waiting, of preparation, of tender hope. Let only things and thoughts that are clean and strong and glad be about us…”




The care and concern you express for your child provides a foundation upon which he or she can accept God’s love and the love of others. The loving attention you share with your children prepares them to encounter Jesus in the heart, in the Eucharist, and in other people.

Updated on October 06 2016