Posted: March 30th, 2022

Spiritual development in young children

spiritual development in young children and what the definition of spiritual development was for early childhood educators. In addition, Schein wished to analyze and describe learning experiences and activities that inhibited or fostered spiritual development for a young child. Grounded in conceptual frameworks such as Buber’s I and Thou, a theory was developed, deriving qualitative data from a 12 participant group of professional early childhood educators interested in spiritual development.


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Through qualitative information gathered from hour-long interviews and an audio recorded follow-up, the study also gained insight from the educators through spirituality journals. The results pointed to a description of dispositions that would invoke a spiritual process. “The resulting theory includes a description of a spiritual process involving both basic dispositions (wonderment, awe, joy, inner peace) and complex dispositions (caring, kindness, empathy, and reverence). Participants reported these dispositions as nurtured by deep connections, modeling, and spiritual moments” (Schein, 2012, p. 1). Highlighting a need to understand the spiritual process in order to foster spiritual development in young children.


Spiritual development may often times be an essential component to building resilience in children. While children worldwide face a plethora of stressors, both chronic and acute, that can increase their risk for physical and mental maladjustment, not all children develop adjustment problems. Some are able to demonstrate a high level of resilience denoting a self-motivated process incorporating positive adaptation in the face of major adversity. A 2003 article shows how children through resilience, can overcome many obstacles that would otherwise traumatize a child. In addition, other children, through spirituality, can also seem resilient in the face of adversity. “Others, while not technically “resilient,” are better able to cope than are most. The religiosity and spirituality of a child (or a child’s family) are factors that may help children weather the stressors and crises that come their way” (Kliewer, Wade, & Worthington, 2003, p. 859).


Spirituality is a means of developing inner strength. Although some people are not religious, spiritual beliefs can and do increase a person’s ability to handle obstacles. Children at times feel powerless to stop things outside of their control. Investigating what keeps some resilient can help in identifying the reasons why spirituality and resiliency can at times coincide.


School can sometimes be a place that requires a place where children can develop their spirituality. With children experiencing stress from course work, bullying, and identity issues, spiritual and moral programs could help children learn to properly cope with stressors. A 2013 paper examined a spiritual themed program where students were encouraged to reflect and build on virtues such as ‘responsibility’, ‘reliability’, and ‘kindness’. Some of the positive results from the program included the student’s ability to self-regulate behavior and resolve conflict (Clifford, 2013). They also learned to be altruistic and empathetic showing spiritual programs may prove beneficial to schools and students.


Religion and spirituality frequently go hand-in-hand. With religion being so ingrained in many cultures, sacred writings from various religions sometimes offer guidance in regards to a child’s well-being and how parents could raise a child properly with their health in mind. Religion and child rearing thus become interconnected with psychologists attempting to analyze the connection between a child’s well-being and religion to see where this connection began. Evidence from previous studies demonstrate consistent information, that religiosity in families is positively related to youth and child well-being.


This comes in the form of mental health, internalization and externalization of problems, and aggression, with even cognitive development receiving a positive influence from religion in the family. However, with any positive, there always comes a negative as described in a 2014 study. “There are two types of exceptions. First, there are circumstances when religious beliefs can be detrimental to youth well-being. The other exception occurs in cases where religious leaders use or religion is used as a justification to maltreat children” (Holden, & Williamson, 2014, p. 1137). This shows that blanket statements about religion providing a positive impact on a child’s well-being cannot be made. While there is a positive correlation, it is not one-sided.


Omar Riaz 2012 dissertation focused on examining the relationship among school principals’ self-reported spirituality as well as their transformational leadership comportments. Using the Bass and Avolio’s Full Range Leadership Model to be the main theoretical framework and help with conceptualizing transformational leadership, Riaz collected quantitative and qualitative information using online surveys. The results from the study suggest “principals’ self-reported levels of spirituality were related to their being perceived as displaying transformational leadership behaviors” (Riaz, 2012, p. vii). Principals who recognized themselves as “spiritual,” were more expected to be categorized as using the transformational leadership style to help motivate and inspire others showing the connection between spirituality, inspiration, and leadership.


Spirituality can be a means to inspire others. In addition to inspiring others in the form of religion, spirituality can also take on the form of spirituality at work or SAW. Leadership development and spirituality management are topics that are frequently met with literature replete with paradoxes that revolve around the definition of spirituality from typically a Chrisitan viewpoint. While some may articulate a more secular approach with a focus on non-denominational humanistic values, the values of business leaders point towards unitarist instead of sectional interests (Tourish, & Tourish, 2010). The 2010 article on spirituality at work provides insight on what values are imposed in the workplace in relation to spirituality.




Clifford, P. (2013). Moral and spiritual education as an intrinsic part of the curriculum. International Journal of Children’s Spirituality, 18(3), 268-280.


Holden, G., & Williamson, P. (2014). Religion and Child Well-Being. Handbook of Child Well-Being, 1137-1169.


Kliewer, W., Wade, N., & Worthington, E. (2003). Religion and Spirituality, Childhood. Encyclopedia of Primary Prevention and Health Promotion, 859-867.


Riaz, O. (2012). Spirituality and Transformational Leadership in Education. Florida International University. Retrieved from


Schein, D. (2012). Abstract Early Childhood Educators’ Perceptions of Spiritual Development in Young Children: A Social Constructivist Grounded Theory Study. Retrieved 20 April 2016, from


Tourish, D., & Tourish, N. (2010). Spirituality at Work, and its Implications for Leadership and Followership: A Post-structuralist Perspective. Leadership,6(2), 207-224.

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