How to Talk to Kids About Religion When You Don’t Know What to Say

How to Talk to Kids About Religion When You Don’t Know What to Say
Photo: Diana Ragland

“What is God? What happens when we die? Why don’t we go to church like grandma and grandpa?” Whether you’re religious or not, tackling the surprise questions about faith from your kids can catch you off guard. Fortunately, author and parenting expert Wendy Thomas Russell has already been through the experience herself and has insightful advice to share. Listen to the latest episode of The Upgrade to hear Wendy discuss the best approach and mentality to have when discussing different religions with your kids, how to help kids understand the difference between belief vs. fact or fiction, and the ideal age to start discussing the concept of faith.

Wendy is a former journalist and founder of the independent book publisher Brown Paper Press, and the author of Relax, It’s Just God: How and Why to Talk to Your Kids About Religion When You’re Not Religious, as well as the award-winning ParentShift: Ten Universal Truths That Will Change the Way You Raise Your Kids.

Listen to The Upgrade in all the usual places podcasts are served, including Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify, iHeartRadio, and Stitcher.

Highlights from this week’s episode

Wendy, on the importance of delivery when it comes to talking to kids about religion:

What I have learned is that it is really not what you say to them, especially when they’re very young. It’s not what you say to them about religion, it’s how you say it. It’s your tone. It’s your it’s your tone of neutrality and just dispassion to be able to talk about it openly and without, you know, some big baggage or or something that just feels tight and tense and like…you know, “I’ve been traumatized by this and I don’t want to talk about it.” And I’m showing that in all the ways that might with my tone of voice and my body language. And I think that more, it’s just like, “Oh yeah. So let’s talk about, you know, look at that symbol over there. Do you know what that is? Oh, that’s the star of David. And let me tell you about, you know, that’s the symbol of a religion called Judaism…” and talking about it that way, even when it gets a little hard, even when you’re talking about things like heaven and hell and and you know, some of the nuances of religion that can be a little bit more uncomfortable, still trying to create a tone of neutrality, it just speaks volumes.

Wendy, on how to teach kids the concept of belief and religious faith:

[T]he game kind of comes out of the very basic idea that kids can’t really talk about religion until they understand what a belief is and why it’s different from a fact and why it’s different from a fiction. And so I created this little game that is called fact fiction or belief, and I have played it many times with my daughter when she was much younger, and it’s really a wonderful way to get them to feel the difference between the three things…you introduce the idea of a fact is something that is true, and a fiction is something that is not true. And a belief is something that some people believe is true and other people believe that it’s not true. So it’s like an opinion in that way. And so then I would say something like, “The sky is blue,” and she would say “fact,” and I would say “right,” and then I would say, “The ground is pink,” and she would say, “fiction.” And then I would say, “Brussel sprouts are delicious,” and she would say “belief.”

Wendy, on finding the right age to start talking to kids about religion:

I think I have two answers because I don’t think there’s necessarily one perfect answer. One is you can wait for them to bring it up. In my experience, you should have an answer ready. So maybe you think about that beforehand and then when they bring it up, you can say, “Great, I’m so glad you’re bringing this up, let’s talk about it.” You could do that. Or you could start as soon as they understand the difference between fact fiction, a belief. And that’s why it’s such an interesting game to play it that like maybe four years old and they’re sort of showing interest in things like, you know, supernaturalism and big topics like that that are, I mean, I feel like generally it’s going to be four to five years old is going to be kind of a prime time, but it could be a little bit earlier and it could be a little bit later. And I think you kind of gauge the kid and they’re sort of interest in it, too. So that’s why I don’t think that there’s a perfect answer, but I think around that age, it’s really good. You don’t want to wait too long because I will tell you from experience that they stop listening to you at about 12. You’re not an influence on them anymore.

To hear more of Wendy’s wonderful tips on talking to kids about religion, we recommend listening to the full episode.

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