How do I Talk to My Child about Religion?
This post is the sixth in our “How do I talk to my child about?” series. We are covering bad language, disabilities, divorce, adoption, death, race, and personal protection. You won’t want to miss these, so be sure to follow us by email on the sidebar and never miss a post!
We are so thankful to live in a place where our local elementary school community is made up of kids from all over the world. I don’t think our kids really know what a privileged experience they get to have- learning about different cultures and traditions first-hand on a regular basis. It’s their normal!
When we were thinking through this series of “How to Talk to Your Kids About….” , the idea of talking to kids about religion came up, and to be quite honest, I didn’t want to write this. Mostly because I don’t know “the right way.” I teach my kids about God, His love for them and His desire for everyone (them included) to come to have a real relationship with Him because they are His children that He created and loved. That is the easy part to me.
But this next part, it gets a bit trickier. How do I talk to them about other peoples’ beliefs?
I don’t really.
I don’t talk about which families are atheists, which ones are Muslim or Buddhist or Hindu or Jewish.
I don’t really talk about what each religion generally believes, at least not yet.
When I became a Christian, I was taught about world religions in the context of what “they” believe and how to prove “them” wrong. In me, this created an “us versus them” mentality that I had to actively fight against in order to have true friendships with people who believed differently than me.
In college this began turning itself around, and I really grew in my understanding of what people really believe- not just because I watched some 20 minute video about world religions, but because I began making friends with people who didn’t believe the same as I did, and you know, they told me.
And while I’m so happy to share with others why I believe in Jesus, what He’s done in my heart and life, and all of the good news that comes with that, I no longer feel the need to disprove, devalue, and dishonor others’ believes.
So, how this all translates into teaching my kids about religion:
1. I want my kids to know that not everyone believes in the same God as we do.
They know that some people believe in the judeo-christian God, and that others don’t. They know that some of their friends celebrate holidays like Christmas and Easter and others have different holidays that are important to them. They don’t assume everyone goes to church on Sunday mornings, and even when classmates show up in their Sunday School classes, they know not to assume that they are Christians. If you want to know what your friends believe, then ask them!
2. I want to always have an open conversation.
We try to fully investigate others’ cultural traditions, holidays, and beliefs in a developmentally-appropriate way. I want to be careful not to degrade others’ beliefs but instead, have conversations about why someone may believe the way that they do, and also how it is similar or different to what our family believes. Please note: We hardly ever talk about others’ religions in any depth. We talk about race. We talk about ethnicity. We talk about holidays. We talk about languages. But not really religion. This isn’t a conversation that they are interested in at this point.
3. I want to create an environment in which question-asking is welcome.
We encourage questions, lots of questions. As they are young, the questions are sometimes weighty, but not too often. I think the intensity of the questions will probably grow as the kids get older, and Jake and I are ready for that. We want to provide a safe place to ask questions and to hopefully help the kids (and ourselves!) to keep a good attitude towards questions. Sometimes questions can be scary as you’re trying to figure out what others believe and why do others believe different things and WHICH ONE IS THE RIGHT BELIEF?! We believe that God is big enough for all of those questions and ultimately, it’s really good to be able to trust in Jesus with your eyes wide open.
4. I want to teach my kids how to love and respect people.
Religion is a big deal in our world, even if people don’t really want to talk about it head on. Who you worship, or who you don’t worship, will matter sometimes. Living in a very academic/intellectual setting, I sense this sometimes. When people realize Jake or I are evangelical Christians, we understand that that comes with a set of labels and assumptions. Some might be fair, but others certainly aren’t. The way evangelical Christians get talked about isn’t very respectful sometimes (i.e. crazy, narrow-minded, not smart, scary, etc.). In the same way, I don’t want my kids labeling other kids (and later, adults) with equally hurtful and probably equally unfair labels. While we do deeply desire that others would know the love and saving grace of God, when they choose not to, we can still love and respect them through our actions, words, and assumptions.
So, all of this may be incredibly unhelpful, and perhaps I’ll change my mind about things later on, but this is how we’re working through these big questions right now.
Feel free to add to this conversation in the comments below!