Explaining Religion to Children
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Explaining Religion to Children
I'm hoping you'll have great suggestions for me! My husband and I were raised in a
catholic family although our parents never had us attend to mass unless in was for
wedding etc. The other day, we were passing by this gorgeous church downtown Oakland
and my 3 1/2 yo asked me what it was. I told her it was a church. She said: Is it a
place to go for lunch? And then... I tried to find the words to explain that some
people go there to think about loved ones that are gone etc... Too complicated!!!!
Our view on spirituality is that we are non-religious persons believing that there is
something or someone out there but we don't really know what/who and that religion
were the answers to human about everything we couldn't understand or to control
population. How to explain this? So far, we've managed Christmas (family holiday),
Easter (Spring holiday) etc...
But the church thing I didn't know what to say...
Thanks for your helpful comment on this!
I wouldn't make a big deal about the church. Show your child a mosque, a synagogue,
the Friends' meeting house in North Berkeley, the Thai temple in South Berkeley,
the zen center, the Buddhist church in Berkeley or SF. I read Greek myths to my
kids when they were very young. Not all of them....some are pretty violent for a
four year old. when my son was six he couldn't identify a church on a speech test
which used pictures. I thought that was funny. It didn't particularly bother him
because it didn't bother me. There are great collections of Norse myths, Japanese
folk beliefs, and Irish mythology, etc. We presented religion as a set of beliefs
like all kinds of other beliefs and myths. There is a wonderful Dorling Kindersly
book titled children Just Like Me that describes real kids from all around the
world: what they eat, their families, where they go to school, what they like to
do, etc. It doesn't specifically address religion but the idea of differences
between people with the similarities we all share as human beings. In that kind of
context, beliefs are part of the landscape. good luck.
love the Greek myths
As a non-religious person and a parent of two children, know that this is the first
of many questions you are going to get about religion. Check out the book
Parenting Beyond Belief, which address this and many questions about raising kids
without religion or structured belief system.
Consider simply explaining, as matter-of-factly as you can, what the church is for.
I was not raised Catholic, but I married a fairly observant Catholic woman. So I
do go to church with her (and now our daughter) fairly regularly, but I have a
pretty secular view of religion (similar to yours). I would try something like
''Church is a place where some people go to think about how they've acted toward
others. They think about whether they've been nice to people or not nice to
people, and they try to remind themselves to be nicer to everyone. They also think
about all the good things that they have in their life, and they think about how
lucky they are to have those things.''
If you're not ready to talk about the idea of god, then that might be a fair way to
explain what church is all about.
Seems like what you described to us about your beliefs would suffice just fine!
It's pretty much what I've been telling my kids all along, too. I think it's
important to express to our kids that we all believe different things, and that's
ok! You can tell her that some people believe (insert word choice here...Divine?
God? Creator?) lives in the sky. Some believe there is no God, some believe, etc...
And that people who believe the same things get together to celebrate their
beliefs. (BTW, A Universalist church might interest you.)
I think being open and unguarded is key. She'll take her queues from you, so if
you're open minded and open hearted, she will be too.
I'm a chaplain, so I get asked fairly often how I define religion and spirituality.
In all my professional years, the best definitions I've heard came from Micheal
Rabow, a Palliative Care MD at UCSF. Here's what he says...
Spirituality comes from the Latin word for breath. It is intrinsic to being human,
just like breathing. It is our natural human inclination to find the purpose of
our lives, define the meaning of our lives, to figure out what is right and what is
wrong, to experience love and connection with something/someone larger than us, to
wonder about what happens after this life, etc.
Religion comes from the Latin word meaning ''tied up'' or bound together.
Sometimes, for some of us, our spiritual journeys lead us to answers (or our
upbringing provides us with answers) that are similar to others' answers. In this
case, we may bind ourselves together with these people and explore our answers
together. This is religion.
So, if it feels comfortable to you, I would explain these concepts in language your
4yo can understand, and then simply say that people of a particular religion go to
a church to be together. Your answer can become apporpriately more complex as your
daughter grows older.
Hope that helps
As a practicing Catholic, it is very hard for me to read postings such as yours - I
could be wrong, but you seem to nonchalantly blow off all religions as something
that was used to explain things when we didn't have science, or to control
population. Please don't pass those views onto your daughter; they're incorrect, as
well as being pretty dismissive.
Instead, I would urge you to go the library and look under the call number 200 in
the Children's section. You'll find lots of non-fiction books on various religions.
Check a few out that seem to be at her level, and read them to her. Judaism, Islam,
Hinduism, even the much-maligned Catholicism. Then she can get a general idea of
what different religions teach and hold sacred. She may never become a Buddhist,
Muslim, or Christian, but she will be able to speak about them with respect, which
is important, I think. So much of what most of us know about various religions are
half-truths at best; at the very least, we need to educate our kids on the basics
so they can learn to be more tolerant of various people's beliefs.
Thanks for hearing me out, and best wishes on your journey.
If I were not religious I would tell my child at that age that many people believe
in God, who they believe is a heavenly father who loves and created the universe,
and that they go there to pray to him and ask for his help. Next question would be
''what is heaven'' and you could say that it's a beautiful place where people go
when they die. You could say that you do not believe these things, and that is why
you do not go to church (or temple, or mosque, etc.) Buddism is very different in
that people are not worshiping a heavenly father, but are trying to better
themselves spiritually. I dont think there is anything at all wrong or age
inappropriate in saying this, and it's good to give a child honest answers when
possible, and not hem and haw.
Since I am a Catholic, I told my children that there IS a God, not that there might
be. But if I were not a believer, I would explain what other people believe, but
hopefully not say things like ''they believe God lives in the sky'' or anything
like that. God lives everywhere, according to the faithful. Also religion is a
serious, deep, purposeful and soulful practice not merely an attempt to control
people and populations. Please teach your child respect about different aspects of
their lives that they will encounter, as you would teach them to respect gay
people, if you are not gay.
love innocent kids
My 4.5 year old son has been asking about God. It started
with ''how do you make trees, how do you make seeds, how do you
make rain'', etc. Our conversations have led to talking about
God and death. We are not part of an organized religion or
church, however, I was raised Catholic. I want my son to
believe in God and prayer, but he gets very frustrated when he
doesn't understand how God can do all these things but yet not
be an actual person. Does any one have any suggestions? I
looked at the archives, but most responses seem to be related to
explaining death, and our conversations have been about the more
general questions of God. To complicate things, since it's near
Halloween he is very interested in spirits and ghosts, and God
seems to fall into that category for him.
Kids are smart and thoughtful, as you know. For me it worked
best to skip the whole personification of God to begin with --
it's counter-intuitive, because I think traditionally have
thought that it's easier to conceive of God as a person. But
with a bright kid, I think it's better to talk about God as a
power in the universe, the power that makes love and life
(which in human experience are best imagined as linked) and
light as well as darkness. God as energy, God as the thing
that makes your heart beat and flowers grow and eyes see. My
son had difficulty as he grew older with the conflict set up in
our society between science and religion, but the power idea
helped in that regard. Good luck in trying to explain the
on the journey
Start talking more about Jesus with your son. Take
him to church, where the focus of prayer and discussion is
Jesus. As a Catholic, you understand that Jesus was an actual
person, but also the Son of God. I suspect your son would not
be 'very frustrated' with how a non-human God created all
things, if he knew more about Jesus. You're very welcome in
any Catholic church, regardless of whether you've been to
Church in 20 yrs or more (no one would really care to know
anyway). The practicality is, relatively few of the young and
middle aged Catholics who do attend church attend regularly.
Your family would be like many others, and as welcome as any!
I do go to Catholic Church fairly regularly, but only since
starting a family. For kids from ages 5, there is usually a
Sunday-school like 'Liturgy of the Word' during mass, which
they love. They learn about Jesus, prayer, the rites of the
Church etc, prepare for Communion (2nd grade) but mostly about
respect, family, love and the things we generally have little
time to sit down and talk about with our kids. And they get to
draw and read with other kids during the mass instead of having
to sit still and be quiet. My two young sons really enjoy
Church now, and through the Liturgy of the Word, they really
get how the stories of Jesus and the activities of the Church
are positive models for daily life.
I found some great children's books that address the concept of
God and how it differs between cultures and faiths at the store
Sagrada in Temescal. I struggled with the same issue especially
because I was raised atheist/agnostic and my partner was raised
Catholic. I didn't mind introducing the idea/possibility of a
higher being but didn't want my daughter to end up w/ the image
of God as a white bearded old man.
I think you need to find a nice little church! this being the bay
area, I'll bet you could find a catholic church that isn't too
overbearing or traditional. Or you could choose a less loaded
version of the Christian religion. I've got a soft spot for
Episcopalians, myself. Maybe you post again asking specifically
for groovy churches in the area.
As a person of faith myself, I know it can be hard in this area
to say ''I'm sending my kid to sunday school.'' People look
askance, ask if you're brainwashed, treat you like a
bible-thumping, Bush-loving automaton. Ignore their bigotry.
Faith has nothing to do with politics. Just look at Jimmy Carter,
Anne Lamott, and Stephen Colbert. Religious wingnuts, every one
I have lots of ideas. One is that you share your excitement about it.
Wow, it is
amazing that God made the trees! I don't know how He did it either! And
can go on and explain about biology and how it all works i.e. seeds,
sunlight etc.. which of course God made as well. My son is really into
and relating God as the only REAL superhero works for him. He is just
so big &
strong & powerful that He can do anything! And no one really knows how
he did it.
Isn't that amazing? I also try to explain what is real & what is not
real even though
that concept takes a long time to figure out. Ghosts & goblins are just
somebody made up for fun but God is real. But He is invisible most of
As far as prayer goes, I try to pray with my kids at meals and at
thanking God for the day and the fun things we did but also for
coming home safely, having a good night's sleep etc. You can ask him if
anything he wants to pray about. Make these prayers very short & to the
fun. I give my son a piggyback ride while we pray at night. We pray for
children that don't get dinner-that they can get one tomorrow etc.
Also,I would talk
about God as a friend who loves us so much. In fact, saying that God
loves your son
so much that He gave him you---Mommy. I think focusing on how much God
him is probably a good way to go. I hope this helps. If you would like
to talk more
please feel free to e-mail me directly.
There's a nice book called ''Because Nothing Looks Like God.''
It's by a rabbi's wife but it's not blatantly Jewish. It just
says things like - God is like the wind; you can't see the wind
but you can see what it does. That might help him find a way to
think about God. BTW, why not take him to church if you want
him to have a spiritual life? Teaching little kids about these
big ideas isn't so easy. Your priest or minister or religious
school educator will know how to do it. I know a woman who is
an Early Childhood Educator in the Jewish community and she
described how kids learn spiritual concepts at various ages. At
4.5 yrs she would say he is learning thru stories.
If you find a like minded community it will be a lifelong source
of support and affirmation for your child -- and you!
Best of luck.
a Jewish mom
I applaud you son for asking EXCELLENT questions. Sounds like a
smart little bugger. Maybe you should try explaining that god
doesn't exist since s/he/it doesn't exist, except in the realm
of Halloween fairy tales. Explore your desire to want him to
believe in god. Why would you want a child to believe in
something that doesn't exist? Or use the santa claus stategy.
Say he exists until your child is about 6 and then say,
surprise, only kidding. Finally, because god did in fact not
make trees and seeds, explain to your son some basic
biological/natural facts and he will be able to grasp them
because they are real. A little basic genetics will be good for
him even though he won't understand everthing of course. Since
god doesn't exist he will never understand god, as adults who
mistakenly believe in god (or the green flying cookie monster or
Thor the god of thunder) also do not understand god. They
simply believe in god. They don't ever seek to ''understand''
god. Finally, if your son persist in not understanding your
explanations of god, answer him honestly by saying, ''I don't
really understand it myself honey.'' Or, ''Maybe god doesn't
exist, buy many people believe he does.'' or ''No one has ever
been able to explain how god could make a tree or the sun. He
just makes them with god magic, although most rational beings do
not believe in magic. Want a cookie, hon?''
Keep in mind faith is very different from reason. Belief in God
doesn't explain how the world works or how it was created. How do
you explain love? Does it make sense? Neither does God, but we
believe in love. Teach your child about God through wonder, awe,
and love, and for those questions and seeds and trees and rain,
get a good kid's science book. I like the DK series (Doris Kinderling).
They have great pictures a 4.5 year old will enjoy, but he won't
outgrow them for years. You can check out www.us.dk.com -- there's also
a great selection at Dark Carnival on Claremont near Star Grocery.
There many Kid friendly service of all kinds, A great book is on the Day
Born. and There is a lovely spiritual book store with kid books on
Temisal It starts with an S. That has really good books. I was raised
Jewish and now
practuse Wicca and my daughters father is a receiving Catholic and
nothing. She has gone to everything and will continue to and she a two.
everywhere and in everything. Do No Harm. Every-night We say the Divine
invocation... I am created by Divine Light, sustain, protected,
becoming, I am Divine
Light and WE Om to release energy. She likes that lot. The most
important thing I
tell her is everyone has there own understanding of God and non are
Unitaternies in Berkeley are very open and love kids. I try them first.
My husband and I did not grow up with any exposure to organized
religion. I suppose we're both agnostics. We've been thinking a lot
about how to introduce and integrate the area of spirituality into
our young daughter's life. We're wondering how other parents who
received little formal exposure to religion as children are handling
this issue with their own small children.
Also, we're considering visiting some local churches/temples just to
get a feel for them. We're looking for places that are as bias-free
as possible (eg. we would not be comfortable with anti-gay
messages). We are also looking for a place that has a good ethnic
and cultural mix of folks (we're Asian). Any suggestions? Thank you.
Newman Hall: Holy Spirit Parish, corner of Dwight Way and College Avenue,
Epworth United Methodist Church of Berkeley, 1953 Hopkins
Berkeley Zen Center, 1929 Russell
Montclair Presbyterian Church, 5701 Thornhill Drive
Siddha Yoga Meditation Ashram, 1107 Stanford Avenue (int ersection with San
Let me also recommend the book RAISING SPIRITUAL CHILDREN IN A MATERIAL
WORLD: Introducing Spirituality into Family Life, Phil Catalfo. ISBN:
0-425-14954-4 (I bought my copy at Gaia Bookstore).
To the person interested in exposing children to religion and/or
spirituality. You might want to check out the First Unitarian Church of
I grew up in a Lutheran household, though I am not attending any
church at this time. One church that you might be interested in
if you haven't been exposed to organized religion and are looking
for more of the spiritual and community aspects of religion is
the Unitarian Church in Kensington. The church sends out a newsletter
from time to time, and I know a member of the congregation. What I
gather from reading the newsletter and talking to the member of the
congregation is that the church is more about bringing people together
and breaking down barriers than it is about worshiping a god. I do
not believe that you would find _any_ kinds of biases at the church.
My impression is that it is church and community that embraces everyone.
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