Often our interactions with children center around questions like “What did you learn? Or “How did that happen?” We then expect certain semi-scripted responses from children in return. This approach assists children in giving and receiving information, but it has limitations. Educational psychologists Raquel Plotka and Xiao‑lei Wang have found that using a more collective narrative style that invites children to engage in back-and-forth sharing is a better alternative.
A collective approach has two distinct advantages, especially for spiritual conversations. First, it encourages children and adults to participate as equals. Because people experience and interpret spiritual activities differently, an adult’s viewpoint is no more or less valid than a child’s perspective. Everyone’s experiences matter. It also works to build combined memories. Spiritual events are remembered through each participant sharing their personal experience. Adults and children comment on one another’s recollections without judgment. They express curiosity about details and name similarities and differences. Each participant thus learns new things about the spiritual experience from other conversation partners.
Researchers suggest three ways that adults can encourage a more narrative style of conversation. With each of these strategies, remember to allow space for children to respond and then build on the interaction.
1. Remember when . . .
Use this phrase when you want to reflect on a shared past experience.
Adult: Remember when we did that meditation together last week, I was really thoughtful afterward.
Child: My nose kept itching, and that was all I could think about.
Adult: That happens to me too. Sometimes I ignore it, but sometimes it is too itchy.
Child: I think maybe my nose needed to be itched, and maybe I just didn’t know it until I sat still.
2. Share a past personal experience.
Use this conversation starter to begin telling a story about your own past experience.
Adult: I remember attending my first protest. It was really loud, and I was sort of scared.
Child 1: I do not like loud noises. When I hear a loud noise, I hide under my blanket.
Adult: I like to hide under a blanket too. It makes me feel safe.
Child 2: Yes! I like to curl up in a ball under my blanket when I’m scared.
Adult: Me too, but this was a time where I couldn’t hide because being at the protest was really important to me.
Child 3: One time I had to watch my younger sister during a thunderstorm. I was really scared, but I couldn’t hide because I needed to keep her safe.
3. Express emotion through excitement or encouragement.
Use this strategy to reflect positive emotions about something children are describing.
Child: Yesterday, I really wanted to take my toy back when my baby brother grabbed it. But I remembered that I want to be a person who creates peace. So I took a deep breath and traded a different toy with him.
Adult: Wow! I am really proud of how you solved that problem!
Child: Me, too. It was really hard, but I stopped and thought first, and then I came up with a better idea.
Adult: I love how you reflected before making that decision.