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Chelsea Lee Smith is the coordinator for online parenting courses for the Wilmette Institute, and Susanne Alexander, in her role as its Chair of the Relationship, Marriage, Parenting, and Family Department, often has the joy and privilege of helping Chelsea create course content. In our courses such as Fostering a Baha’i Identity in Children, Conscious Parenting, and more we help parents learn many practical ways to increase spiritual practices in their homes. Here are three spiritual habits that we love to encourage parents to teach to young children:
1. Praying with “Pure-Hearted Devotion” 1
Based on our understanding of the Baha’i Writings, we feel that prayer should be a part of the morning and evening routine. This will help children make praying a personal, long-lasting habit, and they will also begin to build a true and lasting connection with their Creator from the earliest days of their lives. Abdu’l-Baha tells us:
Every day at first light, ye gather the Baha’i children together and teach them the communes and prayers. This is a most praiseworthy act, and bringeth joy to the children’s hearts: that they should, at every morn, turn their faces toward the Kingdom and make mention of the Lord and praise His Name, and in the sweetest of voices, chant and recite. These children are even as young plants, and teaching them the prayers is as letting the rain pour down upon them, that they may wax tender and fresh, and the soft breezes of the love of God may blow over them, making them to tremble with joy. 2
Besides helping the children to memorize prayers written by the Central Figures of our Faith, it can be helpful to introduce the concept of prayer as “conversation with God.” Children might like to thank God in their own words for blessings, ask for help with developing certain qualities, and pray for specific people in their lives who need prayer. It’s vital to use the words of scripture, as we know. However, some of the process of connecting our hearts with God is also that conversation we have during prayer: “Thank You for xxx.” “Please help me with xxx.” “Please forgive me for being mean to my brother.” “Please help my sister as she strives to be gentle with our cat.” Helping children share what is on their hearts and minds can help them with developing the habits of daily prayer and reflection.
Many parents find setting up a space that is conducive to prayer, whether that is in the child’s bedroom or a space shared by the family, helpful and encouraging when establishing this routine. Sometimes prayers might be said between one parent and one child, and sometimes they might be shared with the whole family. Prayer time may be adjusted as children grow up and you add more children to the family, too.
When Chelsea’s son was around three years old, prayers were said mainly in his bedroom. As her family has grown to include three active children, they have set up a “prayer corner” in the living room of the house. This allows more space for everyone to come together.
Consider what might help your children with daily prayers. Here are some ideas:
- Having their own prayer books
- Decorating prayers to hang on the wall
- Having prayer beads available
- Including prayers set to music, such as Baha’i Blog’s Studio Sessions
2. Reading the Writings with “Reverence, Attention and Thought” 1
Some families like to use The Hidden Words or another compilation of short quotations, while yet others like to create their own set of Writings to read from and memorize. If one of the parents or another family member is of another religious faith, quotations from their scripture could also be added. Whatever you decide to do, ensuring that the readings are age-appropriate and attractive to your child will assist in the process of reading reverently and with careful attention together every day. As they grow and learn to read for themselves, they will probably want to help with choosing the quotations they want to study.
Once they reach the age of 15, Baha’is are required to read the Writings twice daily. If children already have this as a habit, it becomes a strength for them to draw on.
Teach ye your children so that they may peruse the divine verses every morn and eve. 3
3. Reflecting and Improving
Parents can invite children to reflect on their day, focusing on strengths but also identifying areas for growth. They can also help the children to look forward to the next day and what they will do and how they will carry it out.
[E]ffort [is] sustained by earnest desire, not instantaneous perfection. The qualities and habits of thought and action that characterize Baha’i life are developed through daily exertion. ‘Bring thyself to account each day’, writes Baha’u’llah. ‘Let each morn be better than its eve’, He advises, ‘and each morrow richer than its yesterday.’ 4
Children may wish to reflect through art. They may also find it useful to reflect through writing as they get older. Parent educator and Wilmette Institute faculty member Julie Iraninejad uses a rose, thorn, and rosebud as a metaphor to share an approach to reflection in this video.
As you help your children establish these three spiritual habits, you will be wise to assess your own assumptions and cultural upbringing about prayer, reading scripture, and reflection. This will help you be somewhat flexible as you teach your children good spiritual habits. For example, some believe that you can only be prayerful if you are still and sitting in a certain position. Others pray through music and movement. It can help children to pray and reflect if they are in a certain place in the home. However, they also need to learn that they can reach out to Baha’u’llah and God at any moment of any day and in whatever circumstance they are in.
Developing a spiritual culture in the home can be creative and enriching to children and parents alike. When parents and children spend time harmoniously in spiritual activities, all of them learn and develop good spiritual habits. We hope you found this list helpful to your family.
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