Transmitting The Faith To Our School-Age Children

Teaching our kids how to pray and helping them develop a relationship with God can feel difficult, especially when we have children of different ages. However, helping our children develop in their faith doesn’t have to be a complicated task. 

Knowing how to foster your school-age child’s faith begins with realizing that kids need different spiritual food at different times.

Faith evolves in different stages through early childhood, middle childhood, adolescence, and throughout adulthood.  School-age kids occupy what’s called the “Mythic-Literal” stage of faith, but we like to call it the “Stories and Rituals Stage”

Throughout middle-childhood, kids’ brains are focused on making sense of the world, figuring out what things mean, and how things work. Rituals and stories are the most important tools kids at this stage use to do that work.

Family rituals, (like regularly recurring times to pray, work, talk, and play together) and parish rituals, (like weekly mass, regular confession, and family involvement in parish activities) are critical for giving your kids a faith-based sense of structure, order, and belonging.  Rituals help kids experience the faith in their bones. Their muscle memory records the activities that create a lifelong sense of belonging to God and his Church.  

In addition to being ritual-hungry, school age kids turn to stories to make sense of the world. Instead of just letting them pick-up passive lessons from the stories they see on tv, movies and social media, make sure you spend time every day actively reading and discussing bible stories, stories of the lives of the saints and others stories that help kids encounter examples of the way our faith can help us make a real, positive difference in the relationships we have with our family, friends, and the world.

School age kids rely on rituals and meaningful stories to help them know who they are, where they come from, and what they are called to be. To feed your school-age kids’ souls, make sure you provide a steady diet of both.

To explore more ways to help your kids fall in love with the faith, check out Discovering God Together: The Catholic Guide to Raising Faithful Kids.

The Symposium on Catholic Family Life and Spirituality

The Symposium on Catholic Family Life and Spirituality which concluded this past Sunday at Notre Dame was really a tremendous experience. I’d like to offer my sincere thanks to those of you who were praying for the effort. As we have received many inquiries about the event, I thought I would share a few themes that emerged from the various presentations.

Research has shown that parents have much more influence over their children’s future faith than commonly thought, but this influence is more directly related to the quality of relationships in the home than it is to the education or religious practices a family engages in (Bengtson, Bartkus).

The experience of parental warmth–especially paternal warmth–in a religious household is the strongest predictor of parent’s ability to help children own their faith and values into adulthood (Bengtson, Bartkus, Narvaez).

“Articulacy” (i.e., the parent’s ability to present a coherent, personal story of why faith matters to his or her children) is a significant factor in familial faith transmission. This narrative doesn’t need to be theologically sophisticated, but it needs to be personal and meaningful (Bartkus).

Additionally, grandparents are a much more influential force in familial faith transmission than commonly thought (Bengtson, Narvaez). Generational influences of warmth and relationship is a strong indicator for the transmission of faith to younger generations. 

Finally, Christian Family life functions as a liturgy that is (arguably) composed of three “rites” that facilitate development in the priestly, prophetic, and royal missions of baptism (the Rite of Attachment, The Rite of Rituals of Connection, The Rite of Reaching Out, respectively).The degree to which these “rites” are present represents the degree to which a family can effectively function as a “spiritual womb” and “school of love and virtue.”

The entire Symposium was a truly anointed experience. We’ll be posting the videos of all the presentations to the symposium website (CFLSymposium.org) as soon as they are edited, and OSV will be publishing a book/discussion guide for those who are interested in continuing the conversation.

We were pleased to announce the partnership between the Pastoral Solutions Institute and Holy Cross Family Ministries to form the Peyton Institute for Domestic Church Life. The new institute will conduct original research on family spirituality, organize professional trainings and family retreats, and produce initiatives/resources intended to promote the renewal of domestic church life. We are already exploring a major event for family ministers in 2020 to (tentatively) be held at the Peyton Museum of Family Prayer in North Easton, MA.

Thank you for your continued prayers for this effort and stay tuned for more awesome insights from this historic event!

Teaching Kids How To Talk To God

We all want to teach our children to develop their own faith identity and relationship with God, but how do we do it?

For kids to own their faith, the most important thing is to help them experience Jesus Christ in a meaningful, personal way.

The best way to do that is to teach them to talk to God just as they would talk to the person who knows them best and loves them most—because he does. While FORMAL prayer helps give kids a sense of belonging to God’s family, the Church, CONVERSATIONAL prayer helps kids realize that God is interested in having a more personal relationship with them as well.

The best way to encourage your kids to experience God this way is to model conversational prayer for them.  Let them hear you thanking God for little blessings throughout the day, asking for his help, praying—out loud—about your big and small decisions, and inviting him to be a part of your everyday life.

Of course it’s important to teach them how to do the same thing. When they tell you about something good that happens in their day, tell them how proud or happy you are first, but then say, “Let’s thank Jesus for that together.”  Then help them find the words to thank God, out loud, for that blessing.

If your kids are struggling or hurting—physically or emotionally—by all means attend to their boo-boo’s, or encourage them with whatever support you can give first, but then say, “Let’s ask God for his help with this.”  Then help them talk to God about their struggles the exact same way they would talk to anyone else they needed help from.

Show them how to relate to God as if he was right there next to you, listening, just waiting to be invited to be part of the conversation and to help in any way he can–because of course, he is!

To explore more ways to help your kids fall in love with God and their faith, check out Discovering God Together: The Catholic Guide to Raising Faithful Kids.

Praying With Small Children

Praying with small children can be difficult. They tend to be wiggly and have short attention spans. When little ones are involved, it’s easy for family prayer time to seem more like…Wrestlemania. But you can have a meaningful prayer time with small children if you remember that little people need different spiritual food than bigger people.

Faith develops in different stages from early childhood, to middle childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood.  Children around 6 and under are in what’s called the “intuitive-projective” stage of faith. But we like to call it “the cuddly stage.”

In the “cuddly stage” of faith development, children believe something is “true” and good if it FEELS loving, and safe, and friendly.  They believe something is “false” if it FEELS stiff, cold, and unrelatable.

You can focus more on things like prayer-posture and getting prayers “just right” as kids get a little older.  But in the “cuddly faith” stage, the best way to nurture your child’s faith is to make prayer-times–and other experiences with the faith–affectionate, inviting, imaginative, and even playful.

Let your little ones cuddle in your lap when you pray with them. Be affectionate.  As you hold them, concentrate on letting them feel God’s arms around them and letting them feel God’s love filling their hearts through you.  

Sing kid-friendly praise songs together. Use different voices when you read them bible stories or saint stories. Make it fun.

Engage their imagination by asking them to pretend that they were actually in the stories.  You can even act those stories out together!

By understanding the spiritual food that a small child’s faith requires, you can help fill their hunger for God. 

To explore more ways to help your kids fall in love with the faith, check out Discovering God Together: The Catholic Guide to Raising Faithful Kids.

How To Pray Together as A Family

When you’re praying as a family, is it better to use the formal prayers of the church–like the rosary, traditional Grace-at-Meals, or a chaplet—or more conversational prayer?

We say, “Why not both?”  It isn’t that one type of prayer is better than another type.  It’s that they serve different purposes in our spiritual lives.

In our family, we like to think of formal prayers as the, “family prayers of the Church.”  They connect us with the saints and angels and all the other members of our Church past and present! Praying the rosary with our kids, or the divine mercy chaplet, or an Our Father, or even traditional “grace-at-meals,” is like going to visit God alongside all our spiritual aunts and uncles and cousins. It’s like inviting the whole church to pray with us, so we’re never really alone.

But sometimes–just like it’s good to get more personal time with the people you love–it’s good to talk to God using words that are uniquely our own.  Conversational prayer allows us to talk to God about our day, to thank him for specific blessings, ask him for special help, and discern his unique and unrepeatable plan for your life.  

Helping our kids become fluent in both conversational and formal prayer allows them to experience their faith as something that is both personal TO them and bigger THAN them. 

To help your kids have a more meaningful experience with all the different kinds of prayer the church has to offer, check out Discovering God Together: The Catholic Guide to Raising Faithful Kids

To Cohabitate, or Not to Cohabitate. That is The Question

Celebrity couples live together, regular couples live together, if everyone’s cohabiting, that means there has to be some benefit to it, right? Not so fast…

A new study published by the Institute for Family Studies found that cohabitation is rapidly becoming more popular than marriage, even “shotgun cohabitations” are statically more common than “shotgun marriages.” However, research released by the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia and The Wheatley Institution at Brigham Young University has reveled that married couples report three key differences in the quality of their relationships than couples who are cohabiting. 

According to the results of this research, the first statistically significant difference in these relationships revels that married couples are more likely to report relationship satisfaction than couples who are cohabiting. After controlling for factors such as age, education, and relationship duration, it was found that 54% of married women report higher levels of satisfaction while married men report 49% relationship satisfaction. When compared to their counterparts of cohabiting women and men, these individuals reported 40% and 35% satisfaction rates, respectively. 

Next it was found that married couples report greater levels of commitment in their relationship than couples who are cohabiting. As the top three reasons for couples to cohabit include convenience, financial benefits, and “to test a relationship,” it should be no surprise that 46% of married couples report higher levels of commitment in their relationship, compared to approximately only 30% of cohabiting couples. 

Finally, research has found that married couples are more likely to report relationship stability than cohabiting couples. When respondents were asked how likely they were to say that their relationship would continue, 54% of married adults reported relationship stability and continuation, while only 28% of cohabiting adults reported stability and a future for their relationship—this includes cohabiting relationships that include children. 

This and further research reveals that cohabitation fundamentally changes the way that couples view marriage. Couples who cohabitate naturally develop the mindset of, “What if it doesn’t work out?” This thought pattern that a cohabiting couple can simply move out and move on with someone else distresses these three important factors of relationship satisfaction, commitment, and stability that are essential to a successful and thriving marriage. 

When discussing these results, the Institute for Family Studies reports, “despite prevailing myths about cohabitation being similar to marriage, when it comes to the relationship quality measures that count—like commitment, satisfaction, and stability—research continues to show that marriage is still the best choice for a strong and stable union.”

For information on how to have a successful and thriving marriage, check out Just Married: The Catholic Guide to Surviving and Thriving in the First Five years of Marriage, and find more resources by visiting us at CatholicCounselors.com!

How to Cultivate Meaningful Family Prayer

Praying together as a family—at all—can seem intimidating.

Life is busy, and because of this, most families are happy just to make prayer happen, much less make it meaningful.  But there’s good news! You don’t have to be a saint or have perfect kids to have an awesome family prayer time.

So how do we make our prayer time meaningful and teach our kids to have a personal relationship with God?

First, make family prayer a regular part of your everyday life.  Pick a time you’re already naturally together–like dinner time or bedtime–and make spending some time with God part of that routine.

Second, remember that family prayer isn’t just about saying words AT God.  It’s about both helping your family enter into a real relationship WITH God, AND experiencing the Lord as another member of your household.

Third, it is important to teach your kids to talk to God just like they were talking to the person who knows them best and loves them most—because He does! 

Regardless of whether you’re using formal prayers, like the rosary, or taking a more conversational approach, gently encourage everyone to slow down and really think about what they’re saying. 

When you’re using more formal prayer with little ones, don’t forget to discuss what those strange words and phrases like “bounty” or “full of grace” or “trespasses” mean. You can’t have a real conversation if you don’t know what you’re saying!

By remembering that prayer is meant to be an actual conversation with the person who knows you best and loves you most—God!—you can make sure your kids learn to pray with their whole heart.

Want more ideas for celebrating a meaningful family prayer life? Check out Discovering God Together: The Catholic Guide to Raising Faithful Kids!

Does Our Parenting Style Influence Our Child’s Empathy?

Parenting styles can come in many different shapes and sizes, but does how much warmth we show towards our children influence their ability to develop empathy and a positive moral compass?

A new study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry evaluated the small differences in parenting practices among 227 identical twins. The researchers for this and subsequent studies included questions such as “I often lose my temper with my child” and “My child knows I love him/her” to determine the amount of harshness or warmth the parent directed towards the child. 

It is often argued that genes are the main determinate of such personality traits in children, however the results of this study showed that parents who demonstrated more warmth towards their child instill traits such as empathy and a moral compass, whereas children who experience harsher parenting are more likely to develop what is called “callous-unemotional” traits which include a lack of empathy, lack of guilt, a shallow affect, and antisocial behaviors. 

So how do we express this type of warmth to our child in order to develop these positive emotional traits?

Warmth can be expressed in both big and small ways such as giving your child a hug when you greet them or say goodbye, especially when you say good morning or goodnight. Setting aside time at the end of each day to reconnect and catch up from the day, sharing the positives and the negatives of every day—showing interest in every aspect of your child’s life, without nagging them or getting into an argument. Think about the times that you feel closest to your child, whether that is baking, taking a walk, reading, or watching your favorite show together, then implement these activities into your daily or weekly schedule.

Not only does sharing this warmth with our child develop positive emotional traits in them, they actually make us as parents feel better and more connected to our child as well!

If you have difficult parenting questions, call in to More2Life—weekdays at 10am E/9am C on EWTN, SiriusXM 130—or schedule an appointment with our tele-counseling services by visiting us online at CatholicCounselors.com

Our Kids Might Know More Than We Think They Do

As parents, we often want to protect our children from negative encounters or situations that we experience in our adult lives. But is this the best approach? New research reveals that kids may know more about how we feel than we might think. 

A study conducted at Washington State University Vancouver evaluated mother’s and father’s interactions with their children after experiencing an anxiety inducing event (such as public speaking with negative feedback from the audience). The participants were separated into two groups, one group was told to suppress their emotions in front of their child while the second group was instructed to act naturally. 

After the negative event, the parent’s were given a task to complete with his or her child that required the parent and child to work together as a team. 

The researchers found that the parents who suppressed their emotions had less positive and less efficient encounters with their child than those who acted normally and shared their negative feelings with the child. 

One researcher stated, ““The act of trying to suppress their stress made parents less positive partners during the…task. They offered less guidance, but it wasn’t just the parents who responded. Those kids were less responsive and positive to their parents. It’s almost like the parents were transmitting those emotions.”

Moreover, this study showed that when parents suppress emotions the children became more sensitive to the parents, particularly to their mothers. 

Researcher, Dr. Sara Waters, continued by saying, “Kids are good at picking up subtle cues from emotions. If they feel something negative has happened, and the parents are acting normal and not addressing it, that’s confusing for them. Those are two conflicting messages being sent.”

The results of this study show that it is more beneficial for parents to share their experiences with their children. Allowing children to see the full trajectory—from beginning to resolution—of a conflict teaches children how to regulate their own emotions and learn that problems can get resolved. Waters says, “It’s best to let the kids know you feel angry, and tell them what you’re going to do about it to make the situation better.”

This statement by Dr. Waters demonstrates the parenting technique of Modeling that we discuss in our book Parenting with Grace—The Catholic Guide to Raising (Almost) Perfect Kids! 

For more parenting tips and information, check out Parenting with Grace and tune in to More2Life, weekdays at 10am E/9am C on EWTN, SiriusXM channel 130!

It Gets Better With Age

“My spouse and I bicker all the time! What do we do?” Of course it depends on the severity of the bickering between a couple to determine the answer to this question, but a new study from UC Berckley says, maybe just give it time.

Researchers evaluated conversations and exchanges between 87 middle to older aged couples who had been married for 15 to 37 years and tracked these couples over the course of 13 years. 

The results of this study showed that couples experienced an increase of positive behaviors such as affection and humor while the presence of defensiveness, criticism, and other negative behaviors decreased. The researchers also found a decrease in anxiety and depression stating, “Marriage has been good for their mental health.”

Overall, this study revealed that middle-aged and older couples experience increases in positive emotional behaviors, regardless of their satisfaction with their relationship. 

One researcher stated, “These results provide behavioral evidence that is consistent with research suggesting that, as we age, we become more focused on the positives in our lives.”

This study suggests that just because the honeymoon is over, doesn’t mean that there aren’t good times ahead. 

This is not to say that all difficulties can be solved with time. If you and your spouse are having difficulties and would like to discover practical and faith-filled answers, the Catholic Counselors at Pastoral Solutions Institute are here to help. For more information or to schedule an appointment, give us a call at 740-266-6461 or visit us online at CatholicCounselors.com.