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Faith and Children

A family’s faith (be it Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Agnostic, etc.) may be loosely or deeply held, but whatever the faith and however it’s held, it significantly shapes the culture of a family.  Some families consistently attend worship services, pray multiple times daily, and integrate faith into their everyday conversations and choices.  Other families seldom attend worship services, may not have faith-based discussions or prayers at all, and may make their choices based solely on temporal factors.  Either way, parents are setting paradigms of faith for their children.  How do we, as parents, want to share our perspectives on faith with our children? 

For the purposes of this blog, we will narrow the focus of this broad question into two narrow questions.  Is it important to allow children to choose their own beliefs (or non-beliefs)?  What should parents say and do when introducing their children to the concept of religion, in order to promote open-mindedness and tolerance? 

Is it important to allow children to choose their own beliefs (or non-beliefs)? 

There is no universal right or wrong answer to this question.  For some families, it is unthinkable that their children would grow to adopt a faith that is different from their parents’.  For other families, acceptance of other faiths is an essential component of the family’s culture. 

What should parents say and do when introducing their children to the concept of religion, in order to promote open-mindedness and tolerance? 

If a family raises their children with the expectation that the children will keep the faith of the parents, promoting open-mindedness and tolerance of other faiths is primarily taught by example.  Specifically, parents can speak non-judgmentally of other faiths, have friends not of their faith, etc.

If a family embraces other faiths, then it follows that these families will be more likely to allow their children to make informed decisions about what faith is right for them as individuals.  This involves more than teaching open-mindedness and tolerance by example (as referenced in the paragraph above).  The process of exposing children to a variety of religions should start early (i.e., potentially from birth, but typically starting no later than ages three to five years).  Parents can take their children to worship services of a variety of faiths, allow their children to attend functions sponsored by other faiths, encourage open dialogue between family members and people of other faiths about what they believe, etc.  If your family is Christian and your children have a friend who is Jewish and is about to have a bat mitzvah, your family can learn about that Jewish rite of passage, attend the bat mitzvah and appreciate the experience of that faith, etc.  If your family is Muslim and your children have a friend who is Christian and is about to attend summer vacation Bible school, perhaps your children can attend vacation Bible school with their friend to learn about that Christian faith.  As the children become pre-teens, mere exposure to other faiths will be insufficient.  Children in this age range typically begin asking more faith-related questions and are better prepared to process that information cognitively.  Why am I here?  Why is there both good and bad in the world?  What happens after I die?   When children begin asking such questions, it is time for parents to provide their children with more thorough information about world faiths.  Books on faith abound: families can read these books together and discuss them openly.  Clergy of various faiths welcome the opportunity to visit with people who want to learn more about their faith.  Scientists and great thinkers of the world can expound on scientific probabilities (i.e., how the world was created, evolution versus creation, etc.).  As children learn more about themselves and also about world faiths, they can make informed decisions about which faith best represents how they view the world . . . and, in the process, the children will learn open-mindedness and tolerance of faiths that vary from their own.

Summary

How a family views, talks about, and participates in other faiths shapes how (and whether) their children learn to embrace other faiths with open-mindedness and tolerance.

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