Talking with your children about religion
With the U.S. becoming more religiously diverse, it’s normal for your children to have questions about not only your own family’s religious beliefs but also the beliefs of others.
Jill Carroll, adjunct associate professor in religious studies at Rice University, says it’s important for parents to talk to their kids about religion as soon as kids start asking questions.
“Religion deals with the serious things in life – love, death, sacrifice, salvation,” says Carroll. “Kids eat this stuff up. We do kids a disservice when we try to shield them from issues or when we try to dumb it down.”
She says parents should involve children in their own faith – taking them to religious services or prayer services – as soon as they are able to go. As for tackling how to talk to kids about different faiths, Carroll has several tips:
Be comfortable with other religions yourself. Carroll says even if you don’t agree with the views of other faiths, it goes a long way if you have a respect for other religions and agree that other people have a right to their faith. If you feel that you can’t talk to your children about other religions with an open mind, direct them to an adult or teacher who can provide them with more information.
Be active and engaged.In this digital age, kids will find a way to get information about other religions even if it’s not from you. Carroll says in the absence of parents, children will go to the Internet and find all sorts of information. Some information may be correct, but they may also find hate speech or propaganda. Make sure you are a positive filter for your child, directing them to correct information.
Use stories as an entryway.Children love stories, and every religion has great stories – such as parables from Jesus in Christianity, Hebrew stories in the Old Testament, Buddhist stories and ancient mythologies. Carroll says when you see religious holidays on the calendar, you can read stories about these holidays to your children.
Let kids talk to each other about their faiths. Carroll says an eye-opening experience that she witnessed was when several kids from different faiths got together at an event in Houston and asked each other questions. These questions ranged from, “Why do you wear that dot on your head?” to a Hindu child to, “What’s the problem with pork in your religion?” to a Muslim student.
Carroll says the students were very engaged and straightforward with each other, and the conversation was very easy and natural.
Overall, Carroll says it’s important that children learn about other religions, as they have to live near, go to school with and play sports with kids of all different religious backgrounds.
She says parents shouldn’t be scared about discussing religion, and that there is a way to discuss religion from an informational standpoint rather than a belief standpoint. Children are resilient and eager to learn about different faiths and cultures, and there are many ways to make it palatable to them.