While teaching morals to children is imperative, inculcating spirituality is also important. But, how do we do it? On Swami Vivekananda’s birthday, here’s how to help children connect with the soul.
By Arun Sharma
Five-year-old Hari woke up in the morning and rushed to his grandpa, who had come down from Haridwar to spend a few days with him. As he stepped into his grandpa’s room, he saw his grandpa in the padmasana pose with his eyes closed and a rudraksha mala in his hand.
Hari tiptoed out of the room and walked over to his sister, who was a few years older than him. Sitting beside her, Hari started a conversation.
Hari: Didi, why is grandpa sitting with his eyes closed and a mala in his hand?
Didi: He is praying.
Hari: What is praying?
Didi: It is a form of communication with god.
Hari: Who is god and why is grandpa communicating with him?
Didi: God is…hmm...he is…he is…er… er…
“Come over, I will answer your questions,” - grandpa’s voice caught both Hari and his Didi unawares. He had finished his prayers and had just entered the room.
Hari and his Didi’s grandpa awakened their interest in spirituality and answered their questions. However, not every child will have such opportunities. Therefore, to help you understand what spirituality means and how to inculcate spiritual values in your child, we spoke with Swami Paramasukhananda from the Ramakrishna Math, Chennai. Here’s a gist of our conversation with Swamiji.
To understand spirituality, an individual should first understand the meaning of the term ‘Spirit’. In philosophy, the word Spirit is used to refer to the entity which grants the body the ability to function; for example, to sense, to breathe and to think, thus giving the impression of being alive. However, in religion, this very Spirit is addressed as God. Spirituality, in fact, is the process of acquiring knowledge about the Spirit, and realising it.
Now that you have a basic idea of what spirituality is, let us understand the key elements that constitute spirituality and see how we can help our children imbibe them.
1. Self-awareness: Swami Vivekananda used the parable ‘Hari the Lion’ to make us understand that most of us are unaware of our real self. In the story, a flock of sheep adopts an orphaned lion cub, Hari. Growing up with the flock makes Hari perceive himself as a sheep. Believing himself to be a sheep, he tries his best to mimic the sheep by engaging in acts like bleating and grazing. One day, another lion passing by the forest watches Hari acting like a sheep. He catches hold of Hari and drags him to a pool, and makes him see his own reflection. The lion then explains to Hari his real identity, thus making him realise his true self and reform himself.
How to impart this to your child: This story helps us understand how a sense of self-awareness can make us realise our true potential. Help your child develop self-awareness through reflection, practising mindfulness, and challenging her biases and prejudices. However, to help your child do this, you should also be self-aware and full of self-belief, like the lion in the story. For, only then can you guide your child.
2. Differentiating needs from wants: Any desire arising in our mind requires us to engage in an activity to fulfil it. For example, while a desire for peace makes an individual engage in prayer, a desire for money requires an individual to engage in work that pays. However, whatever we gain or receive is temporary and doesn’t stay with us forever. Also, our list of desires keeps getting longer and longer. As there is no end to our desires, we are caught in a perpetual cycle of wishing, acting and receiving.
How to impart this to your child: Teach your child the difference between what he needs and what he wants. You can define needs as all that are required for our survival, health, and happiness; for example, food and water, security and shelter, education and relationships. Wants are all that aren’t necessary to either survive or feel happy. Ask your child to list down his needs and wants by creating two columns on a piece of paper. Differentiating needs from wants will help your child experience happiness and fulfilment, and prevent him from becoming materialistic.
3. Holistic education: In Swami Vivekananda’s words, “Education is not the amount of information that is put into your brain and runs riot there, undigested, all your life. We must have life-building, man-making, character-making assimilation of ideas.” While there is a lot more information available to us today, most of us are interested in learning only about a particular subject. Thus, we fail to gain knowledge about other areas. For example, a chartered accountant may not know much, or next to nothing, about health or environment.
How to impart this to your child: In addition to what your child learns in school, teach her about spiritual values such as compassion and peace, about her community and the surrounding environment, and about herself. Help her learn to love herself, deal with personal issues, own up her actions, and identify and achieve her goals. Holistic education can help your child establish a connection between her mind and body.
4. Serving humanity: Swami Vivekananda said, “It is a privilege to serve mankind, for this is the worship of God; God is here, in all these human souls. He is the soul of man.” While financial experts say that the world has become wealthier, reports also suggest that the divide between the haves and have-nots is steadily increasing.
How to impart this to your child: Encourage your child to show kindness and generosity by giving him opportunities to indulge in acts like donating to the needy, sharing his possessions, volunteering at community centres, and showing appreciation. By learning to serve others, your child will grow up to be an empathetic, caring and responsible human being.
Integrating spirituality with your child’s daily life can help him develop a different perspective, feel compassionate, open up to different possibilities, feel positive, and connect with his innermost feelings as well as those of others. While the task may appear a little difficult, you can draw inspiration from what Swami Vivekananda said – “Do not figure out big plans at first, but, begin slowly, feel your ground and proceed up and up.”
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