How to help our children become Spiritual Warriors
I consider parenting the most valuable, rewarding and challenging occupation in the world. And I find spiritual education of children one of the biggest challenges. As a mother and as a Baha’i I believe it is my primary duty and a privilege at the same time.
We raise our children in a world full of cruelty, violence, temptations and tests. We feel insecure as we cannot protect them from all the evil or injustice. We see a tremendous influence of the social environment on our children. With age our offspring tend to doubt parental authority and family values. They easily imitate and adopt the laws of the street. They make wrong choices! And there is almost nothing we can do to protect them! We can’t be always around to influence their choices, to guide them and to save them! But what we are capable of is helping our kids build a foundation, a core, a base which will become their inner shield and defense mechanism! I strongly believe that this shield is the spiritual education of children! Parents can help their children become spiritual warriors!
Bringing up noble beings
The Bah?’? Faith stresses the importance of spiritual and moral education in shaping the character of children. Education is also the best means to secure their future happiness, because “human happiness is founded upon spiritual behavior” and attaining “a lofty level” of virtues. Bah?’u’ll?h describes each person as “a mine rich in gems of inestimable value” whose inner “treasures” can be discovered and developed only through education. Therefore, children should be valued for the treasures within them and encouraged to develop these qualities. The education of children is integral to the advancement of humanity.
I became Baha’i when I was 17 and I never doubted the way I should raise my children. I always wanted them to be noble, spiritual beings, with radiant kindly hearts and bright characters. As soon as they began to speak, I would teach them to say prayers before going to bed. First I would say a word and they would repeat. By the age of 3 my elder son new several short prayers by heart. When I read Holy writings, I would read them out loud so that my children could also hear them and understand them on their level. I strongly believe in the soul-transforming power of the word of God. And these are not just words, combination of letters and sounds, but a powerful healing energy, which penetrates right in the soul. Don’t think that your children are too small to understand Holy texts. They might not be able to grasp the meaning, but their pure and open hearts are capable of sensing its energy and its beauty.
Educating myself first
No matter how much we try, how seriously we take the education of children, how well we formulate principles of proper conduct to our children, we eventually see that the only effective way of upbringing is the power of example. I look at my children and I see a mirror reflection of myself. Sometimes it’s hard to recognize, but I do see all my shortcomings in them. And that’s quite frustrating. No matter what I tell them, my deeds, my way of communicating, solving problems, treating them and other people is a true education. If I want them to be more respectful to each other, I should be the one who treats them with respect. If I see they overreact or are impatient, I have to analyze my own behavior and try to be more patient and balanced. If I want them to grow up as dignified human beings, I am the first one to see this dignity in them and to nurture it every day. I should really believe they possess all the divine virtues and qualities and my duty is to help them discover these gems and develop them.
The path of virtues
When my children were still small I found a book called “The Family Virtues Guide”. It was my “Bible” for many years and I still use it. This handbook shows parents how to turn words into actions and ideals into realities. Drawn from the world’s sacred traditions, the 52 virtues included there – one for each week of the year – nurtures togetherness in family life. This book shows us how to: learn the language of integrity and self-esteem, understand the five roles parents play, help children make moral choices. Now, it has grown into a worldwide movement called The Virtues Project http://www.virtuesproject.com/family.html and gained universal recognition.
It helped me immensely in my quest for constructive, positive, spiritual upbringing. The habit I gained was ability to concentrate on the virtues every time I wanted to praise or to punish my children. For example, when they would do something praise worthy, I would not say: “You are such a good boy”, I would mention instead: “You were generous when you shared candies with your brother”. And when I would notice improper behavior, I would tell them: “In this situation you could have been more respectful. Or, I wish you were more patient.” Of course I didn’t succeed all the time, but I tried. And still do. Every week we chose a quality we had to work on, we discussed it, and every day we tried to manifest it in our words and deeds. This approach demands from the parents a great deal of dedication and systematic approach. But it’s definitely worth it.
Developing spiritual habits
The habits and custom we learn in childhood become part of our daily actions for a lifetime. Habits like: brushing teeth every morning and evening, taking daily shower, having healthy breakfast, dining together with all the members of the family, table manners, way of greeting people, using polite words and so on. We should admit that these habits are usually acquired at an early age and are difficult to change later. Same way, we can help our kids acquire spiritual habits, which in their turn, will become part of their lifestyle. Among these spiritual habits are: praying, reading writings, doing good deeds, turning to God in every difficult situation and so on. During all these years I was striving to help my sons adopt these habits, starting of course with my own example.
And here is a list of things we try to practice daily:
- We pray every evening before going to sleep and read Holy writings
- We bring ourselves to an account every night, analyzing our deeds, actions and words during the day
- I ask kids to tell me what they have learnt during the day and what spiritual qualities they manifested or developed in this or that situation
- Usually I write it down and in the end of the week we read it and analyze what we have achieved
- Every time they do good deeds I mark them with a star or a sticker on a special board (I usually use the door of the fridge for this purpose)
- We used to choose a “virtue of the week” and note on a sheet of paper or a white board how many times a day kids managed to manifest this virtue. Usually it would be a quality they needed to work on, like friendliness or preferring your brother before yourself.
- For many years we have Rules of the House. I used to write them myself when they were small. But now my children are big enough to decide for themselves what are the basic rules they choose to follow every day (I keep the list on the fridge, and when they forget about the rule, I ask them to read it again). It stimulates them to be responsible for their own conduct and spiritual development.
Most of these habits became normal and necessary part of our daily routine. My children would read their evening prayer no matter where they are and with whom they are, as they simply can’t go to sleep without it. When I loose focus and forget to encourage them by the above mentioned means, they remind me: “Mama, why don’t we write down our good deeds?” or “we haven’t chosen a virtue for this week”. They grow up so fast and the period we can shape their characters is so short. Every time I feel tired, lazy, hopeless or busy with other things, I remind myself that now and only now is the precious period when I can sow seeds in their tender hearts, which will, undoubtedly, sprout and bear wonderful fruits later.
And yes, it’s good to be mom!
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