Spiritual Conversations Build Resilient Children
by Holly Catterton Allen
In July 2020, a YouTube video related to Covid-19 featured a four-year-old girl named Blake sitting at the kitchen table talking with her parents about life during the pandemic:
Blake: “Everything in the whole world has to shut down; nobody can go anywhere ’cause they’re shut down. The ice cream truck is shut down.” (Blake starts to sob.) “The water park is shut down, which is my favorite place. And we can’t go anywhere, not even McDonald’s, which is my favorite restaurant. Everything in this town is shut all the way down. I don’t want it to do that. And the only thing that is open . . . is nothing!”
Blake’s parents listen sympathetically, saying “Uh-huh,” and “Yes, I know.” Her mom lays her hand softly on Blake’s arm.
Blake continues: “I mean, why would germs come around people if they don’t want germs to be around them? Because everyone doesn’t like germs because they get sick, and everything has to be shut down ’cause people are sick, but everything that is fun also has to be shut down. And it’s not fair.”
Mom: “I’m so sorry. It’s a lot.”
Mom: “And it won’t last forever.”
Blake: “Yeah, just for a few weeks.”
Dad: “And we’re doing this so everyone can be safe, right?”
Blake nods her head, then moves on to another subject.1
For some children, dealing with the restrictions of Covid-19 was the first significant difficulty they faced. Of course, not getting to swim at the water park isn’t one of life’s greatest hardships; nevertheless, this mildly humorous example offers a gentle opportunity to demonstrate how resilience and spirituality can be related.
In the YouTube video in which Blake complains about everything fun being shut down, we notice several ways her parents are helping build resilience in their daughter.
Agency. First, they allow Blake to express her dismay over the losses she is experiencing. While they (and we) know that not getting to buy ice cream or visit the water park are small deprivations, to a four-year-old they feel large, especially when experienced cumulatively. By taking her complaints seriously and giving her a legitimate voice, Blake’s parents are contributing to their daughter’s sense of agency. Mom and Dad listen respectfully, demonstrating to Blake that her perspective and her feelings matter. They could have shut down the complaints immediately, saying, for example, “Blake, there are people dying out there; giving up the water park is nothing. That’s enough of that whining.” Nor did her parents take her frustrations too seriously; they didn’t immediately hop up and find a place to buy Blake some ice cream or promise her a trip to the lake since they couldn’t go to the water park. They listened and commiserated with her losses.
Hope. Blake is catastrophizing the present situation when she says, “Everything is shut down. The only thing that’s open . . . is nothing.”
Her parents could have simply said, “That’s not true, Blake,” and begun naming places that were open. But they leaned into her comments, saying church was also closed, generally agreeing that their lives had really changed. And then the mom says, “It won’t last forever.”
At this point Blake begins to convey a quieter spirit, and we see her move away from the tears and overstatements. This approach acknowledges the present realities but also assures the child that these realities will not always be so; the current situation will change.
Making meaning. Blake herself attempts to explain the pandemic and the resulting negative consequences when she says, “Why would germs come around people if they don’t want germs to be around them? Because everyone doesn’t like germs because they get sick, and everything has to be shut down ’cause people are sick, but everything that is fun also has to be shut down. And it’s not fair.”
Her attempts are not completely logical, but her parents do not denigrate her thoughts. And later the dad helps clarify the “why” question when he says, “And we’re doing this so everyone can be safe, right?”
Relationships. The child-others relationship is being deeply nurtured in this conversation. Blake’s parents demonstrate that her feelings matter; they listen, and Blake trusts them to hear her. The child-self relationship has also clearly been nurtured; Blake is able to name her feelings. At one point she says, “It’s just so frustrating”—rather advanced vocabulary for a four-year-old. She recognizes her feeling of frustration, and because her parents (or others) have helped her understand and name that feeling, she can communicate well that this is what she is feeling.
In summary, Blake’s parents are modeling a variety of resilience-building behaviors and attitudes for their daughter. These kinds of conversations build trust and hope, they provide opportunities for making meaning together, and they nurture relationships. These are spiritual conversations, and spiritual conversations build resilience.
If this conversation between Blake and her parents seems ordinary, if it doesn’t seem profoundly spiritual, then this illustration has done what I hoped it would do. One of my goals is to help parents, teachers, counselors, social workers, and children’s ministers see that nurturing children spiritually is less complicated and formal than we perhaps have imagined. Building resilience in children can be a natural part of ordinary conversations.
In other words, building a resilient mindset is what we do when we provide children with opportunities to develop the skills, qualities, and characteristics necessary to fare well in the face of adversity that may or may not lie ahead.
Though children have an inborn spirituality that is their greatest source of resilience, they need adults to come around them and support that inherent spiritual quality.
“‘The Ice Cream Truck Is Shut Down’: 4-Year-Old Loses It over COVID-19 Lockdown,” YouTube, July 13, 2020, www.youtube.com/watch?v=6GSLy-k0heI.
Adapted from Forming Resilient Children: The Role of Spiritual Formation for Healthy Development by Holly Catterton Allen. Copyright © 2021 by Holly Catterton Allen. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com
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