I had not given much thought to this, ever. Primarily, we are Hindus, however I am not very religious but deeply spiritual. We thought we had time to figure out and collect our thoughts. However V loved the idols of god at home, especially Ganesha. She enjoyed hearing stories about them and one fine day, V asked a pertinent question, “Amma, why do we pray?”
And then it just came naturally to us. We had a clear idea of what not to tell her.
God is watching you.
We did not want her to grow up fearing anything unfathomable or mysterious. We prefer using direct consequences to discipline as well.
God created everything.
While many people believe this, I think it would be difficult for a child to imagine the world coming out of nowhere. She knows about evolution and loves reading Darwin’s Origin of Species for children. But at the same time, we hope to preserve the magic and wonder she has for the whole process of evolution, where a million things could have gone wrong, but didn’t.
In that sense, we would want her to love our religion and pick her favourite stories or customs associated. But we would want to reiterate that nature and the universe are beautiful and bigger than us. And possibly, God is everywhere in nature and within herself, and not just in the idols.
So we answered her in the best way we could. That we need to thank the universe for the gifts that come our way. And sometimes if we are sad or have problems, praying quietly may make us feel calm.
Since then, we have done a few things consciously to raise a spiritual toddler.
V has been exposed to a lot of religious stories thanks to some wonderful Indian publishers. We strongly recommend the series by Om books to introduce the subject to children.
We now make a big deal of festivals. Apart from narrating the story behind the celebration, we try cook atleast one festive dish together. We have given her a little altar of her own where she is free to express her religious belief on her own. There is always a book on her altar, and the idol is always handmade with dough or clay so that she realizes she has creative power within her. We try to celebrate as many festivals as possible.
I think babies are born with an innate curiosity and love for nature. We don’t really have to do something special, other than providing plenty of opportunities to spend time outdoors. When she sees plants being self-sufficient, tiny little ants going about their business, natural elements more power than us, she appreciates things she doesn’t understand, yet. When she helps me segregate garbage or reads about endangered animals, she has started looking at our world as something precious where she is an active participant of. We hope she develops empathy by taking care of other animals and children.
Her idea of praying, offering thanks, while lighting a lamp in the evening, or while going over the day before we retire to sleep. We sometimes sit in blissful silence on our terrace, watching trees dance and birds sing- and that is very meditative as well. I hope to teach her a couple of prayers though, over summer, if she expresses interest.
V has to make her own choice about her faith when she is an adult. And that can happen only if she is exposed to different cultures and religions. We have churches and mosques nearby and she knows people go there to visit God. She believes all the idols look different due to humans. The Ganesha idols she makes everytime with playdoh turns out different. I hope she learns not to give too much importance to the external appearances and focuses on the message.
Should I do a round up of my favourite children’s books on this topic too? Let me know in the comments below. I think the first step to introduce a topic like this to toddlers though, is to clarify own beliefs to ourselves.