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Raising Children with Spirit
Healing Prayers
by Susan Dermond

"How do I teach my child to meditate?"

"How do I share my spirituality with my children?"

"My child has no interest in guided meditations and prayer. Is he not spiritual?"

These kinds of question are often asked by parents who have discovered a spirtual path for themselves. Believing that we are spiritual beings who have a body, they want their children to grow up tuning into that inner reality.

But lacking models for how to nurture spirituality in children, most parents are at a loss when it comes to how to inspire children to express that side of themselves. Yet childhood, when the heart is so open to love and inspiration, is the perfect time to affirm the child's soul-nature and help him tune into a higher reality.

In this column I will share simple ideas that I and parents and other teachers in the Living Wisdom schools have tried and found successful in helping children have spiritual experiences.

One of the principal reasons that parents give up on being able to share their spirtual paths with their children is that they do not know how to work with their children's energy to help them be calm and focused enough to listen inside. We have to choose the right moment to try a new and intensely focused activity;

Think of it this way: if someone were going to give you a precious pearl ring, would you be able to receive it in the right spirit if you were watching the news, complaining about your difficulties at work, or driving in a traffic jam? Or would you prefer that the giver choose a moment when you were quiet, centered, and receptive? When we teach our children that they have inner resources within, that Divine Mother is everywhere and available to us, we are giving them precious pearls.

So in each of these columns I will not only give you an activity to try with your child which will help her tune into Spirit, I will also give you a practical way to help your child relax and focus, becoming receptive to the pearls you wish to share.

One of the best times to acknowledge and draw on the presence of the divine in our lives is at bedtime. However, a bedtime that is preceded by a battle to brush teeth or roughhousing is not what I mean.

After giving the child a warm, relzxing bath, try sitting on the bed with her and give her a foot massage. Ask him about his day. Tell him about your own. Talk about the people in your lives– relatives, neighbors, classmates.

As you chat, you will probably remember that some of the people you know are troubled by ill health or other challenges. You can suggest praying for them together. You can tell your child about the scientific studies that show that heart patients recover faster when they are being prayer for, whether they know it or not!

Close your eyes together. Call to mind each person you wish to send healing energy (kids love to pray for their pets too!)

You can say words something like, "Picture grandma in your mind. Surround her with God's healing light. Visualize beautiful golden light all around her and see her smiling peacefully." Let's rub your hands together and hold them up, visualizing light streaming out from our fingertips and going to grandma and filling her with peace." You can chant "Peace," "Shanti," or "Aum" as you send her healing energy.

Begin with just one person and only continue to others if your child is enthusiastic and calm. It might take several times for him to get into the flow of it, but in my experience, practically every child enjoys being a channel for sending love to others in this way.


One-pointed Concentration

Last time I described a way to do healing prayers with children after the relaxation of a warm bath and a foot massage. This month we'll help our children (and ourselves) have an experience of focused, one-pointedness.

You will need a chime, an especially beautiful, resonant bell, or a singing bowl. A bowl is the best, but I use a small chime which can be purchased for less than $20.00 because it is portable. You will also need a candle and a spot which is quiet and meditative. If you have an altar of your own, that will be ideal.

If you and your child are relaxed and calm, but not too tired at bedtime, that would work. However, mornings are also a great time for spiritual practices. Try a week-end morning when no one is in a hurry to be anywhere and before children have gotten very outward with friends or other activities.

To set the stage, to create the receptive moment to share the "pearl" of one-pointed concentration you can use music. Play uplifting, relaxing music to get your child in the mood. You don't have to tell him to listen to it; just put it on! Selections that work well are Spectrum Suite by Steven Halpern, Derek Bell's Mystic Harp or practiacally any Mozart.

Now real aloud a story or picture book that you know from experience puts her in a calm mood. Ask your child if she wants to try an experiment. If she agrees, tell her you are going to "test" her ability to concentrate. She will close her eyes and you will ring the chime or make the bowl sing. She is to listen to the sound intently and at the very moment that the sound disappears from her ear raise her finger. If you are doing this with more than one child, explain that it is not about who can hear it the longest, but about paying attention to your own hearing and being aware enought to discern that exact moment that the sound stops.

Tell the children that it is a challenge and not to worry if they forget to pay attention the first time; you can do it again! Do a sample ring with open eyes. Then the child closes eyes and tells you when he is ready. Ring the bell (you can play too; see if your child raises her finger at the same time the sound disappears from your ears; generally the senses of children are more keen than ours!).

Do the experiment as many times as the child wants to. Then you can explain that that experience of complete, focus on one thing is called one-pointed concentration, and the ability to do that is the beginning of meditiation. If he enjoyed the experience, point out that he will probably like the feeling of meditation as well!

Sometimes children who do not enjoy more inward activities such as guided visualization will nejoy this one because of the challenge aspect to it. Can you do it? Show me.

However, not to worry if you child doesn't respond; in future columns I will describe activities that will work with almost every child.

The Power of Story

Everyone loves a good story. Children especially love to be told stories, to imagine realities other than their own, and to broaden their experiences with identification with characters.

Uplifting stories about people who conquer challenges and do noble deeds–from King Arthur to Luke Skywalker to thrill us. But children, especially from the ages of 6-11, especially benefit from such stories because they feel deeply the emotions of the story, and they are looking for role models to imitate.

Any teacher or child care worker who works with groups will tell you that when children play together, they imitate both the actions of the adults in their homes and the actions of the characters in the books and stories they see. From Tarzan to the Little Mermaid, they role play it all.

What would you like your children to identify with and imitate? Selecting movies and videos on that basis has great influence on your child's development.

Reading aloud to your children is even better. Your involvement and bonding with your kids duing reading time draws them in completely. If you haven't read aloud to your children a great deal, begin with a very magnetic book with short chapters and lots of suspense. Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher by is a great choice. The Not-Just Anybody series by Betsy Byars are also great for starters and have the advantage of both strong girl and boy characters. The most touching of them is Vulture Lady. More sell-known and more inspiring is C.S. Lewis's, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

After you have developed the art of reading aloud and your child has developed the art of listening, you can graduate to more challenging books with longer chapters and more expanded vocabulary. I recommend Summer of the Monkeys by Wilson Rawls for all children between the ages of 8 and 12. I have read this book and countless others aloud to at least ten different classes of children. Consistently when they vote on their all-time favorites at the end of the year, this one comes up number one or two. I even had a nineteen-year-old whom I hadn't seen in years, come up to me in a store and remind me that I had read her the book in elementary school. It's a powerful, touching story with lots of humor. The ending is predictable and a little sentimental and very satisfying for children.

A little more New Agey" (lots of references to herbs, and earth mother kind of vibration) is Monica Furlong's Wise Child. It has more suspense and danger in it than Summer of the Moneys. Wise Child also portrays a wonderful friendship between a boy and a girl that does not turn romantic. It is especially popular for girls in the 9-14 age group. One that appeals more to boys (ages 7-10) is Frances Hodgkin Burnett's The Lost Prince.

Another book popular with both sexes is Shiloh. Phyllis Reynolds raises all sorts of ethical and moral questions in this book (Is it ever okay to lie to protect someone else? How do we live with pain and suffering in the world? What is our responsibility to those we love?) and in the novel (unlike the movie) you and your child will have time to explore them together. This one is not for the very young, but is riveting for the 9-12 year old.

Finally, you can read some of the classics concerning the battle of light agains dark–or buy tapes and listen together. The Lord of the Rings and will capture the imaginations of children who are experienced listeners.

Susan Usha Dermond is a yoga teacher, Director of the Living Wisdom School, and a minister of Ananda Sangha. 503.626.3403.