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Nurturing the Spiritual Health of Children Through Literature

by Delphine Rossi

Human beings are mind, body, and spirit interconnected. As parents, we are dedicated to helping our children become whole and healthy beings physically, emotionally, socially and intellectually. The overlooked and sometimes forgotten health aspect of the whole child is spiritual health, the core component that serves to nurture the heart and soul of a child.

Spiritual health encompasses experiencing unconditional love, joy, faith, hope, forgiveness, and optimism. It enables us to feel a connectedness to self, others, and a higher power or larger reality. Spiritual health provides us with a sense of resiliency, personal fulfillment, and inner peace. Spiritual health does not refer to religion, although many religions incorporate spiritual practices into their system of beliefs.

Teaching children about their spiritual health through literature is a natural way to expose them to spiritual qualities in a simple manner that they can understand. The following are examples of classic and contemporary children’s stories that provide opportunities to talk with children about spiritual issues and allow the enhancement of their spiritual development. Many of them can be checked out of public libraries. If you have read them with your child before, you might want to read them again to discuss the questions below.

Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman is a story that teaches hope, optimism, and personal fulfillment as Grace believes in herself and is voted to be Peter Pan in her class play.

Bambi by Walt Disney Books shows optimism, hope, and resiliency as Bambi learns to live without his mother and eventually finds love and peace in the forest.

Beauty and the Beast by Walt Disney Books teaches unconditional love and hope as Belle shows unconditional love to the Beast which transforms him into a gentle, loving being. Discussion questions: Why was the Beast so sad and angry? Why wasn’t Belle afraid of the Beast? What did Belle see in the Beast that others didn’t see? What helped the Beast to change?

Cinder Edna by Ellen Jackson is a delightful parody on Cinderella. It shows how one’s attitude greatly determines happiness. Cinder Edna shows optimism and hope as she looks for the positive from her experiences, accepts herself for who she really is, and learns of personal fulfillment through the simple joys of life. She turns crisis into opportunity and lives happily ever after. Discussion questions: What helps Cinder Edna feel good about her life? Why does Cinder Edna make the best out of each situation? Why is Cinder Edna’s life happy?

Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney is a beautiful story that depicts the deep, unconditional love between a child, Little Nutbrown Hare, and a parent, Big Nutbrown Hare. It is one that will surely warm your heart. Discussion questions: What is unconditional love? How do you know I love you?

Koala Lou by Mem Fox is a story in which Koala Lou believes that she must win her mother’s love after many siblings are born. In defeat of her goal to win the Bush Olympics to get her mother’s attention, Koala Lou learns that her mother has always loved her unconditionally. Discussion questions: Why does Koala Lou feel she has to win her mother’s love? What does unconditional love mean? Do you feel that you are loved unconditionally? Do you think love has to be won?

The Lion King by Walt Disney Books demonstrates forgiveness, resiliency, and love as it describes Simba’s struggle with the loss of his father and his eventual return to the pride to assume his leadership role as the king. Discussion questions: Why was Simba angry at the loss of his father? Why did he want to leave the pride? Who did Simba have to forgive to feel better? Why did Simba return to the pride?

The Little Engine That Could by Watty Piper is an excellent example of the spiritual qualities of resiliency, optimism, and personal fulfillment. The little engine demonstrates how faith and optimism in one’s ability leads to success. Discussion questions: Why did the Little Engine keep trying? How did the Little Engine feel when he asked for help and other engines said no?

Oh, the Places You’ll Go by Dr. Seuss helps children to understand the importance of optimism and resiliency when facing life’s challenges. Discussion questions: Why is it good to be optimistic? Tell me about a time you felt optimistic about something. How do you feel when things don’t turn out the way you want them to?

The Very Quiet Cricket by Eric Carle is a tender story that teaches children faith and hope as the cricket continues to chirp to find one of its own kind. Discussion questions: Why didn’t the cricket give up? How did the cricket feel when he met another cricket?

You Are Special by Max Lucado is a wonderful story about a boy named Punchinello who discovers that he is special no matter what others may think. It teaches unconditional love, resiliency, and inner peace. Discussion questions: Is it okay to be different? Why was Punchinello special? Is everyone special? What makes you special?

Reading and discussing stories with children provides parents with teaching moments, golden opportunities to teach their children about the importance of their spiritual health. We, as parents, need to remember to teach our children about such qualities as forgiveness, hope, optimism and joy. Our attention to the whole child will enable our children to become more resilient in times of adversity, more optimistic in times of disappointment, and more hopeful during the inevitably difficult times that life brings to us all.

Additional spiritual health literature:

  • Cinderella, Edward the Emu, Free Willy, Homeward Bound I & II, The Little Match Girl

  • A Little Princess, The Lovables in the Kingdom of Self-Esteem, Love You Forever

  • Pinocchio, Pocahontas, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, The Secret Garden

  • Sleeping Beauty, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Thumbelina, Ugly Duckling

  • The Velveteen Rabbit, The Wizard of Oz

Author Bio: Delphine Rossi, M.S., Th.D., is the former coordinator of the School Health Education Program at Utah State University. She has extensive experience in the public schools teaching Health Education K-12.

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