How do you explain to your young children why some of their friends don’t celebrate Christmas, Easter, or Halloween etc? What is the best way to explain to your child why a kid in their class cannot put his or hands together in prayer, or doesn’t celebrate his or her own birthday? When your child comes home talking about another kid in their class who said there is no such thing as God, or Heaven or who told them that they were going to hell for believing in something spiritual what is the appropriate rebuttal. When it comes to kids, religion and holidays there can be a lot of mixed messages being sent to children that leave them with quite a few unanswered questions that can leave children feeling bad.
For instance if your daughter wants to send a Christmas card to her schoolmate, but that person doesn’t share the same beliefs how do you explain this to a 6 or 7 year old in a manner that they can understand. Freedom of religion is an incredibly powerful tool of society. And yet kids, who do and don’t participate in the mainstream religious holidays, are simply following their own familial values and upbringing. A 6 or 7 year old doesn’t choose to be Muslim or Christian or Agnostic. They are a product of their parent’s beliefs.
Understanding the beliefs of others is the key to religious tolerance. When one child in a school system or among a group of kids is singled out due to religious beliefs that stem from the parents it can be a prickly situation for everyone involved. Essentially, kids are so heavily influence by their parents and upbringing, that religious tolerance at a young age can be a difficult feat to accomplish.
The following tips are to for helping kids understand religious difference and ways to talk about religion, holidays and beliefs without discouraging tolerance and friendship among kids with differing belief systems. ‘
- The first rule is to talk to your kids in terms they understand. Kids don’t really understand that there are labels for religious beliefs. If they have a classmate who doesn’t celebrate Christmas, or doesn’t believe in God use words that are age appropriate. Explain that they just have a different way of thinking, which is in no way different than kids choosing to dress in a different way. Even if you disagree with a family’s religious beliefs, do your best to not explain it to your child in negative terms, which will only confuse your child and cause a rift in the friendship.
- Expose your children to many religions. This is the first step in teaching your kids about tolerance. This also helps them to choose and manifest beliefs of their own as they get older. It is estimated that half of all kids raised with one certain set of religious beliefs eventually adopt religious values of their own in adulthood. Remember, your child does NOT have to share your beliefs and exposing them to other religions is a gift that you are giving your children.
- Never use fear to explain religion. Far too many people teach religion using fear. Never say to your child, “Well Mikey is going to hell because he doesn’t believe in Jesus.” Just like you wouldn’t want your child told something bad was going to happen to them for their beliefs, you don’t want your child doing that to someone else.
- Use the term God lightly without definition. We live in a society where everything from our money, to the Girl Scout Promise includes the word God. Your God and another God may be different but they are God nonetheless. God, in every society is part of our culture. Much of what children do when it comes to ‘god’ is a matter of tradition rather than religion.
- Allow your child to celebrate their own religion. If your child wants to send a Christmas card to a Jewish friend then allow them to do so. You can still explain that this other child doesn’t believe in Christmas but it shouldn’t keep your child from showing their feelings toward a classmate. If the parent objects, so be it.
- If your child comes home with questions about another child’s beliefs or religious celebrations then indulge their curiosity as a learning experience. Go online, or get a book to help them understand their classmate’s belief. Again, this helps with tolerance.
- Last but not least don’t leave kids with differing beliefs out of simply because you assume their family will not allow them to attend an Easter egg hunt or Christmas party. This way, the responsibility lies on the other parent without hurting the child’s feelings.
The truth is that every family has its own values and religious beliefs. Every family has their own way of celebrating holidays. And this okay. Children shouldn’t be the benefactors of religious stress or intolerance. When you teach your child to embrace other religions and to separate friendship from religious beliefs, you raise a child who is able to see the world as a tolerant place. And, by talking to your kids about different religions and cultures, you empower your children to eventually make decisions on their own about religion and spirituality.