How to Tell if Your Child is ‘Ready’ to Talk about God

By Wendy Thomas Russell | June 7, 2012 | 3 comments

I wish there hard-and-fast rules about when to have the “tough talks” with our kids.

Like how preschool teachers do Kindergarten-readiness tests and then let parents know when their kids are ready to advance. Wouldn’t it be nice if someone could give us a sign when the time for these conversations is right?

“Yes, Mrs. Russell, feel free to discuss the 9/11 attacks; your daughter is mature enough to handle that level of evil.”

“No, Mrs. Russell, she needs a more few months before she hears about the difference between vaginal and anal sex.”

It’s like that with the God Talk, too, especially for those of us who have anxiety about (1) not wanting our kids to believe everything they hear and (2) not wanting to indoctrinate them into our ways of thinking. Sure, most of us generally know we need to address God with our kids somewhere between the ages of 3 and 6. But when exactly is the right time — not just for kids in general, but for my kid?

Often, we don’t have a choice in these matters. Relatives or peers introduce our kids to the “existence” of God before we have the chance to broach the subject ourselves. Or a grandparent or pet dies, which moves the conversation naturally in that direction.

But if you find yourself wanting to bring these things up yourself and aren’t sure if your child is “ready,” you might try a game called Fact, Fiction, or Belief.

The idea is to make statements and have your son or daughter tell you whether the statement is fact, fiction or belief. Define “fact” as anything that’s true; “fiction” as anything that’s made up; and “belief”as anything that some people think is fact and other people think is fiction. (For purposes of this game, opinions, preferences, tastes, etc. all can be considered “belief.”) The bonus to this game is that you’re also teaching the word “fiction,” whose meaning has confounded children for decades — ever since we got the rather loony idea to make “nonfiction” the name given to books that are not untrue.

For instance, you might say: The moon is in the sky. And your child would say: Fact! 

It’s okay to make people feel bad. (Fiction!)

Pink is the best of all the colors. (Belief!)

The game works really well during car rides, which are also — incidentally — when a lot of kids ask questions about the existence of the universe anyway. (Must be something about sitting still and just thinking.) Don’t get too wrapped up in making everything too literal. Just keep in mind the point of the game, and have fun with it.

And when your child has mastered it? You can be relatively assured she’s ready to advance to the next level.


3 comments

  1. Kimberly says:

    This was incredibly helpful – thank you. Great game idea! We’re just getting ready to discuss this topic in our secular family group, so your timing is appreciated.

  2. Derek Cramer says:

    This sounds like a fun game to play. I was wondering though, how do you handle the religious questions? For instance “Humans evolved over the 4 billion year history of the planet” or “There was a flood that covered all land masses of the planet 3,000 years ago”. These could easily fall into any of the 3 categories depending on who you ask.

    Another tough one would be “Zeus throws lightning bolts from the sky”, does it still count as a belief even if no one today believes it?

    • Great question. I have a few thoughts. 1. The point of the game is more to find out if a child has the mental capacity to distinguish between fact, fiction and belief — which is a necessary precursor (my opinion!) to discussing God as a concept in our society. But when children get old enough to understand evolution vs. creationism — mine is pushing 7, and she’s almost there — I don’t think the game is necessary anymore. That said, I think your underlying question has to do with whether we categorize evolution as a belief. And no, not at all. I don’t think that, out of respect for religious people, we need to dumb down science. In fact, all that does is dumb down religious people. I’ll teach evolution to my kid, just as millions of religious people also will teach evolution to their kids. The whole notion of creationism — which I present to my kid as “a story that some people believe really happened” — is a significant problem for by-the-book religious people. They must make creationism (a belief) fit in with evolution (a fact) — and that can be very difficult. But it’s not a problem that I needs to worry about. It’s a problem that only creationists need to worry about. So evolution is a no-brainer for me. I tell her evolution happened, because it did. As for Zeus, I think you can draw the line on Zeus anywhere you like. In our house, we talk about the Roman/Greek gods in the same way we talk about the One True God — they are subjects that are really interesting and fun to consider. But I don’t consider ancient mythology “beliefs,” because no one believes that. (Maybe a fourth category could be “Past Beliefs!”) But I would still call Native American stories “beliefs”…

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For parents who aren’t religious, the task of talking to children about religion can be daunting. So daunting, in fact, that the entire subject often gets glossed over or ignored completely. Relax, It’s Just God is a blog (and soon a book) intended to help parents break their silence without breaking a sweat.
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