Religious rituals that take place beyond the walls of mosques, churches, tabernacles or synagogues can bring faith into a community. The rites and observances that take place in a home help cement social ties and strengthen bonds between families and friends. But children of religious parents can struggle with the heady concepts around home rituals. While kids might pray as taught, or go through the motions, parents sometimes struggle to help kids truly connect.
“You have to think of the nature of ritual as a social, psychological and spiritual process,” explains Dr. Jesse Fox, who studies the intersection of spirituality and psychology at Stetson University. “Ritual is really a part of life. Even secular societies create their own ritual processes.”
Fox sites anthropologist Victor Turner who broke ritual down into for unique phases that move participants from transitioning into a liminal spiritual space where they encounter the sacred before moving back into the world. ”That whole process is the thing that parents are trying to pass onto their children,” Fox explains. “You change through that ritual process. And you come out into the world better able to serve your community, better able to engage life. How do you create this encounter?”
How to Help a Child Understand Religious Rituals at Home
- Create a space inside the home that is designated for the ritual.
- Set aside a regular time when the ritual occurs either by your discretion or in accord with the tradition.
- Make sure that you are practicing a living faith rather than engaging in rote traditionalism
- Answer children’s questions with an understanding that they are not challenges but a way to find meaning in the ritual, which is spiritually healthy.
Due to their age and experience, parents can take for granted how easy it is for them to enter into the divine. Fox notes that without the encounter, that sense of being in the presence of the sacred, kids will begin to lose their connection to ritual. Unfortunately, the moment of encounter in any ritual is deeply personal and can’t be controlled. If it could, it would essentially lose it’s mystery and power, becoming essentially like turning on a lightbulb.
“So, as a parent, all you really can do is invite kids into that process,” Fox explains. “At the same time recognizing that their experience will affect them in ways you have no control over.”
In order to Invite a child into that process, there needs to be a special time and place held aside for the sacred, where the ritual is taken seriously. But having a space and some time set aside (according to specific religious requirements) offers parents an opportunity to help explain the meaning of a ritual that moves past rote tradition. Creating a ritual space and time at home can lead to questions that prompt parents to explain the whys of certain rituals are done the way they are.
“Of course that means parents also have to think about that,” Fox says. “It’s an interesting dialogue that can happen because it can create a time where parents can re-understand rituals from a new way if they haven’t thought about it for awhile.”
But in the end, if a parent wants a child to be fully invested in religious rituals at home, they should be fully invested themselves. If a parents practice rote ritual, it really isn’t alive. “It requires parents have a living faith,” Fox says. “Children are very perceptive. They can see through that.”
At the same time, healthy faith invites dialogue and questioning. “There will, of course, be times that children question ritual and the way things are done,” Fox warns. “But instead of seeing it a challenge, it might be better to view it a sincere questioning and seeking answers. And that energy is a positive one.”