When spiritual habits and values are introduced early and made a part of everyday life for children, a strong spiritual identity naturally develops.
Children need this kind of religious and moral training early in life, not only for their own inner development but for the health of the larger society, as well. They need the moral structure and guidance true religion offers.
This kind of moral and spiritual training requires a great deal of consistent effort and love on the part of parents—and obedience on the part of children. Through these means the spiritual habits of prayer and regularly turning to God will take root.
However, it may be helpful here to say a few words about the concept of obedience. Obedience is a virtue, but its best companion is reason, not authoritarianism. In the same sense that blind faith is fraught with danger, so too is our desire for blind obedience.
When children rebel, it often happens in response to an authoritarian approach. They need the constant opportunity to see that obedience is not an end in itself, but rather a means to guidance and understanding. To be effective, this must be a conclusion that our children arrive at for themselves because it is observably the way things work. Children need to be reared to understand that obedience has two parts: compliance and explanation. As children, we need to receive instruction and advice and then receive a clear, reasonable explanation. The sequence is “Comply, then ask why,” not the other way around. To question authority is to demand an explanation before obeying. When we do this, we end up only complying with those rules that we personally find agreeable. This is not obedience.
As parents we naturally want our children to be able to express themselves freely. However, freedom is often confused with license or licentiousness—the disregard of legal and moral restraints and the “freedom” to do whatever we want without being held responsible for our actions.
There is not much freedom in having no rules or discipline. It may sound like a contradiction, but there is actually great freedom in strict obedience to laws. Traffic lights are a good example of this. When the light turns green, we cross the intersection, relying on other people to obey the law that requires them to stop on red. If everyone obeys this law, we are safe and free to not worry about what others will do. Children must not be left to assume that there are no rules, or that there is no authority to which we must subjugate our will. They learn that important lesson best by understanding the existence of a Supreme Being who gives us spiritual and social laws adults and children strive to follow:
The image and likeness of God constitute the virtues of God, and man is intended to become the recipient of the effulgences of divine attributes. This is the essential foundation of all the divine religions, the reality itself, common to all. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 404.
Developing the virtues of self-discipline and obedience are just two of the important ways we can nurture our children spiritually. Cultivating all of the virtues of God is a sure path for spiritual growth and improvement. There is no better time to begin developing the virtues of God than in childhood. These virtues include but are not limited to: Assertiveness; Caring; Cleanliness; Compassion; Confidence; Consideration; Courage; Courtesy; Creativity; Detachment; Determination; Enthusiasm; Excellence; Faithfulness; Flexibility; Forgiveness; Friendliness; Generosity; Gentleness; Helpfulness; Honesty; Honor; Humility; Idealism; Joyfulness; Justice; Kindness; Love; Loyalty; Mercy; Moderation; Modesty; Obedience; Orderliness; Patience; Peacefulness; Purposefulness; Reliability; Respect; Responsibility; Reverence; Self-Discipline; Service; Steadfastness; Tact; Thankfulness; Tolerance; Trust; Trustworthiness; Truthfulness; and Unity.
Teaching your children these inner virtues—the true heart of religion—will guide their steps throughout their entire lives.