3 SPIRITUAL LIFE SKILLS FOR KIDS (AND IDEAS TO TEACH THEM)
By Janel Breitenstein
I leaned against a truck yesterday at sunset while a photographer cooed at my son, coaxing a smile for his senior pictures. My son towers over me now—weird, considering he used to fit in my abdomen. My hourglass of time with him home has trickled down to its final grains.
When we arrived home, his chore was to repair anchors in the drywall, a life skill not yet attempted. So he and I toted a drill, hammer, and screws up from the garage, and eventually, the coat hooks in his room were remounted where they should be(ish).
It feels good to check off another life skill. I like that his chin tips just a little higher after he gains new competencies. He tinkered around in his self-purchased, vintage car recently, rightly gathering any source of knowledge other than myself for electrical issues. The victory hoot when he got his turn signals working again was priceless.
Yet what if in focusing on the seemingly urgent life skills for kids (homework turned in! CPR! Sew a button!), we miss the best?
If my son can grill a hamburger or make a dentist appointment but associates prayer with drudgery or has sexual values as smudgy as our bathroom mirror, I’ll have missed the point in eternal ways.
How can we make space for what matters forever? How can we squirrel away life skills for kids that make them want to connect with God? Could spiritual life skills be as natural to them as putting their clothes in the hamper? (Well. More natural than that, hopefully … )
Spiritual life skills for kids: Start here
Here are a few spiritual life skills for kids to get you started.
It can feel easier to teach a form of prayer that strikingly resembles Alexa, Siri, or Google: Please order this. I need help with this. I think of this as a “grocery-list” prayer. It has its place. We want kids to develop habits of, say, praying for another country. Praying for friends. Remembering to confess sin.
And while we totally want to approach God with every kind of request (Ephesians 6:18)—including pet lizards and winning the pinewood derby—it can be helpful for kids to imagine what they would say if they went on an ice-cream date with God. What would they want to talk about or ask? What would they tell him they like about Him?
Because we want to communicate that prayer is intimate and natural.
At the close of a recent phone conversation, my mom said to me simply, “Well, let me pray for you just a minute.” It wasn’t awkward, because this was the culture of my family of origin. Like breath. Like air.
Well, I pray for my kids as they pull on backpacks for school. Later, we pray about something they’re stressing over. I might pull them into my arms; prayer can be a point of connection. Just like you might associate pumpkin pie with warm feelings at a grandparent’s at Thanksgiving, our kids can associate prayer with comfort and closeness.
The easiest way to incorporate prayer as one of your life skills for kids is to make talking with God an ongoing conversation in your own home—involving Him as you would anyone else in your home. Sure, it may be awkward at first. So was kissing your spouse, until you got the idea.
Our kids may be part of the most isolated generations ever to walk the planet. Long hours with video games, computers, and yes, social media leave our kids disconnected, anxious, depressed, and even aggressive.
Our kids constantly play in the shallow end of community: surface-level relationships that numb and retrain our healthy hunger for authentic, deep relationships. We’re rarely fully present with other people.
Which makes presence one of the best gifts we can give our kids.
Practically speaking, how can your family move toward a connected community with each other—moving outward from there—and away from isolation?
- Use car time, shopping, and errand-running as time to be together and talk—not place a phone in your child’s hands.
- Deposit phones in a basket when your kids come into the house.
- Make a goal to host another family for dinner a certain number of times per month (even if it’s only one!).
- Find easy ways to host, so your hospitality is more about being with people than impressing: compostable plates! InstaPot! Bring-your-own-meat grill night!
- Give kids tips on how to greet someone confidently: Look the person in the eye. Hold the person’s hand like it’s a baseball you don’t want to drop. And know the six magic words: “Hi! I’m _____. How are you?”
- Help kids think of a question to start a conversation: “I’m into drawing. What about you?”
Community as a life skill for kids helps them dive into the Body of Christ, rather than thinking “I don’t need you!” (1 Corinthians 12:21).
Let’s help them get un-alone.
One of my favorite moments found my daughter and me in our sunroom watercoloring. A happy surprise: how much she shared about what was going on at school. A memory that will stick even longer? Her observation about how she was contributing to the problem.
I love it when kids voluntarily shuck sin’s blindfold. When, from constant practice, they observe the log in their eye (Matthew 7:4), seeing how their sin contributes and destroys, so they can make it right.
Instilling spiritual life skills for kids means creating a subculture in our families. As parents, we set the tone by readily, sincerely apologizing: Not in insecure self-shielding or as a way to keep false peace, but regularly owning up to our own junk.
Other tips to steer kids toward heart change:
- Allow a child to wait to respond so their brains aren’t in fight, flight, or freeze mode.
- Address them with calm tones: “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1).
- Have these conversations away from the potential added shame of other people’s eyes.
- Ask a child to put aside the fear of consequence to focus on the more significant issue of their heart. Sometimes, if a child is truly responsive (as opposed to an excellent actor), a greater consequence isn’t necessary.
- Ask questions to bring about ownership, rather than accusing or pitting ourselves against our kids: “What do you think you could have done differently?”
- Praise true repentance, rather than the appearance of it (2 Corinthians 7:10-11).
Restore connection by holding your child after a tough discipline moment, voicing your enjoyment of your relationship and your hope in your child. Bringing her back “home” to you.
Our kids will make oodles of horrible/idiotic decisions. But teachable, repentant kids? That we can work with.
Spiritual life skills for kids—the bottom line
Spiritual life skills for kids offer steady habits to cultivate a genuine, intimate relationship with God—not unlike how we’d make time to train them to clean a bathroom or hold a baby. Or even, like my son’s car repairs, to rally the right resources for their own exploration.
God is clear about His commands for me to train kids who love him (Deuteronomy 6:5-7, Proverbs 22:6, Ephesians 6:4). But I possess no power to change my kids’ hearts! He’s simply asking me to be faithful—approved and unashamed (2 Timothy 2:15)—with the gift of my kids. His kids.
Catch Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 3:6: “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow.” We could say it this way, I planted. All those camp counselors and crazy youth group leaders and grandparents and babysitters watered.
But God gave the growth.