I am often so excited when I begin a new spiritual practice, I expect to see immediate benefits. In my enthusiasm, I sometimes forget that to see the lasting effects of meditation, yoga, or advocacy practices, I need to continue doing them even when they are hard or I don’t feel like it. To establish new ways of being with myself and in the world, I have to be persistent.
Spiritual persistence is also something children have to learn. Child psychologist Julia Leonard and her team found that children are especially motivated to persist when they watch an adult succeed at a difficult task and hear them connect that task to their values. When you begin a new practice with your children, allow them to see your struggles and improvement as you develop that spiritual habit and talk about how the practice supports your family’s values.
How does building spiritual persistence work in real life? Here are some models that might resonant for your household:
Doing advocacy work. You passionately support the Black Lives Matter movement in your community. You have participated in many protests and letter writing campaigns calling for greater equity. Despite your efforts, few laws have changed. As you encourage your child to participate in justice-making activities alongside you, point out the small successes along the way, even when major victories don’t materialize. Tell your child that you attend protests because “it is important to make the world a better place for everyone.”
Taking a regular timeout. Your family decides to introduce a time during the week when everyone takes a break from work and electronic devices. You plan family activities during that time, such as playing games or reading together. Both you and your child struggle with the ban on screen time. Share with your child how you are going a bit longer each week before wishing you could check your Instagram or TikTok feed. In addition, state, “We are taking a family timeout because it is important for us to spend time strengthening our connections with one another.”
Learning a tricky yoga pose. You and your child begin practicing yoga together everyday. Sometimes one of you loses your balance during a pose and has to start over again. You look up a few tutorials to help you with the poses and then spend some extra time each day practicing. You also learn to focus on a static point to help you balance better. After several days you are able to hold the pose during your shared yoga time. You tell your child about your extra practice and explain that your desire to be more grounded in yourself motivated you to work harder.
Showing respect for others. You and your child agree that you will not allow others to make discriminatory remarks in your presence without comment. At a family gathering, your aunt makes a sexist remark at the dinner table. You tell her that you are raising your children to treat all people with respect and find her remark unkind. Your aunt seems upset and complains that you are being overly sensitive. Later, you ask your child how they felt when they heard the remark and remind them that “speaking out when someone is unkind is one way we show respect for others.”