Spirituality and Child Health
Introduction: Canadian children have many resources available to them. Yet by global standards, they are not flourishing in ways that one would hope, particularly surrounding health and outcomes of happiness and life satisfaction. The field of child spirituality may offer a deeper understanding of this problem, as well as the potential for practical ways of helping Canadian children to thrive. Our work builds on conceptual thinking by researchers Drs. Hay and Nye, who suggest that spirituality is connected to a sense of wonder, awe, imagination, meaning and moral sensitivities. They recognize it as an innately natural capacity for awareness to the sacred quality to life experiences and enables what they term “relational consciousness”; the quality in humans that enables relationships with themselves, others, the natural world and a transcendent other(s).
Methods: Building upon this simple theoretical framework, we have a unique and practical opportunity to explore the possibility of relations between children’s spirituality and many aspects of child well-being. This opportunity is both national and international in scope. The Health Behaviour in School-Aged Children study (HBSC) is a general study of children that is sponsored primarily in Canada by the Public Health Agency of Canada, and affiliated internationally with the World Health Organization. In 2014, HBSC in Canada will involve 40,000 participating children aged 11-15 years from some 600 schools. Cycle 7 (2014) introduces a novel new spirituality module to the Canadian HBSC that includes items that speak to each of the four recognized domains. Members of our research team were involved in developing and pilot testing this module. Because HBSC contains a rich array of items describing child well-being and factors that might influence it, HBSC data will enable us to explore relations between spirituality and many facets of health and well-being, including indicators of overall health, life satisfaction, emotional well-being and quality of relationships. We will also further explore the influence of spirituality within specific vulnerable populations, such as children who live in poverty or those of First Nation, Inuit or Metis decent.
Possible Impacts: While child spirituality is an exciting and emerging academic conversation, it is in the lives of children that this subject truly matters. Our proposed research program will provide evidence that may ultimately contribute to efforts that promote the overall well-being and even flourishing of Canadian children through development of educational curriculums and resources for parents, families, religious and nature program leaders and other knowledge users. A focus on spirituality may offer clues as to what Canadian children need in order to thrive. They are a vulnerable population in Canada overall, and the protection and promotion of their health and wellbeing should be an important national priority, both for research and for preventive action. Research that invests in the nurturing of happy and whole children, who thrive as human beings, may be one of the best investments that Canadian society can make.