Helping Children Understand Their True Selves: Interview with Author Kristin Gattens

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Image by HEIDI WALLEY / Unsplash

As parents on a spiritual path, our practice allows us to raise the next generation more consciously. But how do we answer questions about our existence as souls that we’ve barely begun to understand ourselves?

I sat down with the author of NED: Who Am I Really?, Kristin Gattens, to learn more about her book series and how we can support our children on their spiritual path so they can stay connected to their divinity.

Q: Tell me about Who am I Really? and how it came to be from your work?

The idea for this book came into being about five years ago when Nicole (co-author) and I were living in Vancouver and both working really long hours in healthcare. Although we had completely different specializations (I was a mental health counsellor and Nicole was a palliative care nurse), we shared a lot of common experiences and observations, particularly in our work with children.

We noticed that regardless of their ailments, our patients all demonstrated the same underlying needs: to understand their purpose, to know their lives had meaning, to find clarity amid confusion, and to cultivate a sense of faith and hope. Nicole and I wanted to help meet these needs in a big way and yet felt so limited within the parameters of traditional healthcare. We became increasingly frustrated within our roles as it seemed like so much of our work focused exclusively on symptom management and this sort of just grew into a shared inspiration to create more holistic ways of supporting children with their health and wellness.

It is such a priority for us to help children understand their true selves and recognize that their existence matters, and so Who am I Really? was really born out of this intention.

Q: I’d love to hear more about the Ned series and its mission…

The mission of the Ned series is to educate young children and inspire their development in a compassionate, progressive, and empowered way. We hope to nurture the natural spirituality and curiosity of children and give conscious parents a tangible platform for engaging their children in open, heart-centered conversations and experiential learning.

In each story, Ned engages with a new mentor who helps him cultivate a deeper level of self-awareness and introspection. Essentially each of these mentors will represent the type of unconditional love, acceptance, guidance, and encouragement that all children need and many don’t fully experience.

Q: How can we talk to our children about spirituality?

Children can be very inquisitive when it comes to spirituality and this often inspires them to ask very profound (and sometimes difficult to answer!) questions. It is important that parents celebrate the curiosity of their children and answer these big questions with as much honesty and openness as possible. Parents might feel an underlying pressure to have all of the answers, but no one truly does! In fact, being transparent about what you don’t know is in itself a valuable opportunity to model authenticity and encourage children to be curious about their own beliefs.

There is a quote in the book that reads: “There are things in this world that aren’t well understood. We can’t pretend to know everything. That won’t do anyone good”. Through their own humanity and transparency, parents can teach their children important lessons about inclusion and acceptance by respecting the diversity of spiritual beliefs.

Children have an innate reverence for nature, for animals, and for the genuine care and compassion of others. Spiritual conversations can be woven into everyday experiences in nature, in creative play, or in being of service to others, where values and principles such as connectedness, equality, empathy, imagination, and sensitivity can be explored. Parents can also find books and movies with simple and thought-provoking spiritual content and initiate meaningful conversations after reading or watching. The recent Disney Pixar movie “Soul” is a perfect example of this!

Finally, children are often capable of understanding more than they are given credit for. Although it can be challenging for young children to grasp abstract concepts, by using simple, age-appropriate language parents can find inspired ways of helping their children create a sense of spiritual identity and find meaning in the world around them.

Q: What are some of the ways our children are most disconnected from their divinity?

Children are essentially conditioned out of their divinity. It is the role of parents, caregivers, and society to socialize children and guide their behaviour, but there are values embedded into this teaching that inadvertently disconnect children from their spiritual identity.

Human beings are hardwired for attachment because as children the love and acceptance of adults ensures our survival. Children naturally look for ways to gain the approval and validation of those around them, and many of these observations teach them strategies that move them away from their authentic selves. For example, when children are given praise for achievements and punished for mistakes, they feel as though love is conditional and learn to define themselves with misleading constructs such as “good” and “bad”. As a result, they begin to identify with false aspects of identity such as: appearance, intellect, interests, talents, relationships, etc., in an attempt to understand their place in the world and secure attachments with others.

Children can also be conditioned out of their divinity when their imagination, creativity, curiosity, and magical thinking are shamed. When children feel safe and supported to express themselves freely and explore the everyday miracles of the world around them, their divinity is nurtured and celebrated.

Q: What is your advice for the parent who is just waking up to their own spirituality yet wants to consciously support their children in their soul’s expansiveness?

Many parents put so much pressure on themselves and experience such guilt when they feel they aren’t meeting their own (sometimes unrealistic!) expectations. It is important that parents remember the beauty and simplicity of what it means to be spiritual. Spirituality is simply a connection to what gives us meaning and purpose in life. It is an awareness of something bigger than our own egos and an underlying need to become aligned with our own hearts and connected to all that surrounds us.

Parents can consciously support any child’s spiritual needs with openness, honesty, compassion, and a sense of wonder. Again, parents do not have to have all the answers! Regardless of the parent’s own spiritual unfoldment or sensitivity, so long as they can hold space for questions, encourage their child’s uniqueness, and communicate unconditional love, the child will feel safe and supported to expand.

Sometimes children may have spiritual experiences that fall outside the awareness and understanding of their parents. This is okay! Parents can (and should!) do their own research, reach out to others, and ask for help from trusted mentors if needed. Children do not necessarily need parents who have shared spiritual experiences or abilities. Children need parents who believe them, who will support them, and who will love them unconditionally.

Q: How do we help children navigate the complexities of existence?

The human brain is happiest when there are simple, logical, and predictable answers. In fact, we are hardwired to fear the unknown because our brains don’t know how to protect us from what exists outside the scope of our understanding.

When it comes to contemplating the complexities of our own existence and exploring the uncertainties of creation…let’s face it, there is a lot we don’t know. This is often something that many people fear, and we may observe individual and systemic attempts to mitigate this fear through close-minded, rigid, and intolerant belief systems. These attempts to control the unknown do not further our understanding but only create pain and suffering.

Parents who are able to model curiosity and a grounded presence empower children to navigate the complexities of existence by encouraging them to be open-minded and inquisitive. Children who are taught to embrace uncertainty and feel comfortable in the unknown will not only feel safer in their spirituality, but they will feel safer in their bodies and their emotions.

Get your copy of Kristin’s book, NED: Who Am I Really? here.

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