Children’s group leaders often wonder how much to share about their personal lives with young people. We appropriately want to protect our privacy and maintain appropriate boundaries. And, when it comes to spirituality, we also want to avoid giving children the message that they have to imitate our lives in order to please us.
Fortunately, studies suggest that sharing how our personal interests and spiritual practices connect with the topics we teach helps children make similar connections between what they are learning and their own spiritual lives. When we model enthusiasm for spirituality, children catch that enthusiasm. When we emphasize our personal engagement with a spiritual practice, children realize that they can make a practice their own.
One way to begin sharing is to tell children stories about the first time you tried various spiritual practices. It doesn’t matter if your initial attempts went well or failed spectacularly. Talk about why you decided to try the practice. Describe what happened and how you felt while practicing something new. If you liked it right away, tell them why. If the practice had to grow on you, share a bit about your struggles and why you persevered. When children hear about your spiritual learning process, they are more likely to risk trying out new practices for themselves.
Another approach is to talk about the ‘real world’ benefits you experience from a spiritual practice. Describe how you use mindfulness techniques to help you pay attention to the pleasant sensations of chopping vegetables and smelling seasonings while cooking. Explain how taking calming breaths prevents you from yelling at other drivers during rush hour. Mention that your body feels more relaxed now that you practice yoga regularly. That way, children can see that spirituality is not just something you are teaching; it’s a real part of your life.
Children also benefit when we show them how to find other resources they can use to support new practices. Think about the various aids you found to help you learn a practice. Did you post a chart of yoga poses on the wall to show you how to move? Was there an app you downloaded to remind you when to pause and breathe deeply? Create a list of some of the resources you’ve relied on and work with children to add more items over time. Such collaboration honors the individual work they are putting in to learn new practices while reminding them that no one grows spirituality without help.
Sharing information about personal spiritual practices helps build stronger relationships between leaders and children as well. It becomes something you share with them and they share with you rather than just a topic to explore. They realize you can relate to their struggles and successes because you also have spiritual ups and downs. Even when they prefer different practices to those you love, they know you will welcome their enthusiasm and invite them to walk with you on a shared spiritual journey.