First 1000 Days: the new buzz term, and why it matters spiritually

First 1000 Days: the new buzz term, and why it matters spiritually

From what age should you encourage a child’s spiritual development? Petra Institute believes a child’s spiritual journey starts during the first 1000 days - from conception until the age of two.

“For You formed my inmost being; You knit me together in my mother’s
womb. I praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” - Psalm 139:13,14

Addressing the void of sufficient reading material for these first 1000 days

During 2020, Petra Institute observed that children under the age of three years old are seldom recognised in reading material, especially in relation to ministry. Gretha Lourens, Facilitator at the Institute, said they found a wide range of valuable learning and reading material for children over the age of two. While the material focuses on the physical, intellectual, and social needs and stimulation of a child, limited material addresses the spiritual, or having a relationship with God.

“Because we noticed this void, Petra felt compelled to develop a short course for parents, caretakers, and especially pregnant women to assist and guide them in creating unique opportunities during a child’s first 1000 days to nurture their spiritual growth and relationship with God,” explained Gretha.

Hoping to fill this void, Petra Institute introduced the workshop, God, my baby, and I.

While the course aims to help parents create a conducive environment for a child to see, experience, and love God, it also instills knowledge about healthy communication between parent and baby.

Gretha, who played a key role in the development of the course, said the course explores ways in which adults can develop and nurture a child’s spiritual growth and discover how a child is already in a relationship with God from infancy.

Citing Lisa Miller, a psychology and education professor at Columbia University, Gretha said children are wired to stand in a relationship with God.

“God has been longing for you, longing to connect with you, since before your very beginning. Every child you know has been longed by God into existence,” Miller wrote in her book, Spiritual conversations with God.
 Miller continues: “We also long for God. Just as we are hardwired to seek connection with our caregivers, we are hardwired to seek connection with God”.

According to Miller, spiritual development for humans is a biological and psychological imperative. What struck participants of the course is the whole paradigm shift one has to undergo, said leading researcher Caryn Coetsee.

”Parents do not have to convince their children that God exists, because he or she is wired to know about God and that he or she longs for God and God longs for them even before they were born”.

God reveals Himself to his child, which places an even greater responsibility on parents in that they must play a role in their child’s spiritual development through their everyday lives. This shift from talk to action takes so much more, explains Caryn. Your focus turns to how you act and react, for example how you maintain patience with every need of your child, or to apologise when you made a mistake.

”Your perspective of what your responsibility (as a parent is) shifts completely. It is a paradigm shift that takes place,” noted Caryn.

But what participants also realise and are reminded of, is how God loved each of them - just like a child - since they were born.

Briefly outlining the course, Caryn explains, each relationship between God, the baby, and the mother is looked at in depth. Amongst other key aspects, the attachment cycle where a parent creates a secure or insecure attachment with a child during the first nine months after birth is explored.

Aside from the relationship between parent or guardian and God, great emphasis is placed on the critical role of the whole community in raising a child.

Why we believe in the first 1000 days

Do you know at what age…

  1. A fetus' heart starts beating.
  2. A baby can recognise a mother’s smell?
  3. A baby can recognise a father’s voice?
  4. A child is aware of God?

Since its inception in 2022, God, my baby, and I have been welcomed by parents in Kylemore, a village nestled in the Cape Winelands in the Western Cape. Workshops have been held for pregnant women, teenage moms, and daycare workers. A group of tutors have been trained, and they then presented a morning workshop in Villiersdorp.

Petra hopes to continue with the course and take it to other areas as well. Because the model on which the course is developed allows it to be presented within existing programs, Petra hopes to continue with the course in other areas in partnership with other organisations.

Citing Miller:

“These hardwiring pulses in our bodies, in our minds and hearts, compel us to reach for [a] connection with God.”

Answers to questions 1 to 4

  1. 6 weeks into pregnancy
  2. Within a few days
  3. At 32 weeks of pregnancy
  4. In the womb

Petra Institute Course: Relational Family Ministry

Through the training in our Entering the World of Children course, staff at the Tshwane Leadership Foundation learned how to build trusting relationships with children through storytelling, games, music, humour and play.
This resulted in gathering information from the children in a playful way and in a safe environment where they could respond, based on a relationship of trust and respect.

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