How to Talk to Your Kids About God
Most young children have some concept of God. It is important to respond to their questions with sophistication and honesty.
Reprinted with permission from JewishFamily.com.
Even parents who tell their children that they can ask them about "anything" often change the subject when children ask about God. And they do ask.
"Who are God's parents?" "If God is so powerful, why doesn't God stop bad things from happening?" "Does God hear my prayers?" The questions are legion. In essence, they are the same questions that parents ask, although in another form. But they are questions we must address. After all, who among us is satisfied to give our children an intellectual, but not a spiritual education?
Our answers to these questions guide our children's view of the universe. What do we wish them to believe, that they are accidents of ancient chemistry or sparks of the divine? Whatever one's philosophy on these matters, we owe our children an honest and searching discussion.
Talking to children about God is a key component of their sense of self. Children are taught that they are important, but why are they important? Ask your children why they matter. I have asked thousands of children "why are you important." The usual answers are "I get good grades, I am good at sports, I have a nice job/boyfriend/girlfriend, my parents love me." All these answers spell trouble, because they are all based on something human, and everything human can change. Are we always going to be the brightest in the class, or have that boyfriend or feel our parents' love? Do you really want your child's self-esteem to be based on your emotional constitution? Is there no unvarying basis for self-worth?
The Bible has a deeper image. "God created human beings in the divine image" (Genesis 1:27). What if we could say "all your qualities are wonderful, but beyond all that you matter because you are in the image of God? There is an essence in you that is only yours—your divine spark. God loves you, and that love never changes." When we do that, not only have we given our children a constant basis of self-esteem, but a noncomparative basis. If I am important because my parents love me, what does that teach me about the child whose parents do not love him, or who has no parents? But all are special in God's eyes.
Teaching children about God is a way of giving a firm footing to their spiritual life. Below are a few guidelines for initiating a conversation that can be as intimate as any between parents and children:
Ask. Studies show that almost all children by the age of six have some developed concept of God. Ask them. Do not allow your own preconceptions to determine the range of their curiosity. Let them think, speculate, dream, imagine. Children will grow in their understanding, but only if we do not cut off conversation by dictating the "truth" or by evading the issue.