Background. If children are to be given the opportunity to develop to their full potential, fostering spiritual growth must be part of the process of caring for them. However, the meaningful application of spiritual care in everyday practice is fraught with difficulties. In addition to a lack of understanding of the term itself and of the expression of spirituality, in child health these difficulties are further compounded by the stage of a child's development.
Aim. The aims of this paper are to explore spiritual awareness in children by providing examples of the expression of spiritual beliefs in relation to the developmental stage of the child, and to identify the implications of the findings for clinical practice.
Method. A model of concept development, using the cyclical process of ‘significance’, ‘use’ and ‘application’ was applied, and formed the philosophical underpinnings for the paper. This framework is particularly relevant to child health, as there is little evidence to draw on, particularly in relation to a child's spiritual needs.
Findings. Five primary research papers which met the inclusion criteria were reviewed, and provided examples of spiritual beliefs and their manifestations in children. The examples highlighted the diversity and complexity of children's thinking.
Conclusions and recommendations. Health care professionals working with children should receive education about the spiritual needs of children. Assessment tools should be developed to facilitate detailed assessment of children's spiritual needs. Professionals need to listen to and communicate with children at different stages of development if spiritual distress is to be identified. Families’ health care beliefs should be respected and considered when planning care.