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Children and Religion: What and How Will You Teach Your Kids about Religious Beliefs (or the Lack of Religious Beliefs)

Updated on December 10, 2011

What Will You Teach Your Children about Religion?

The obvious answer is that you will teach them what you believe. That is to be expected. But the more important question is...

What will you teach your children about members of other religions or about people who have no religion?

Can we teach our kids to be respectful and kind regardless of religious differences? Can we instill a sense of respect for human life and feelings and rights? Can we show them that people are going to believe different things but they are still people and should be treated nicely?

A little thought about world events and the division in this country will make obvious why this is such an important question, or it should. In this article, I am really, mostly, speaking to the Christians as the majority religion and I'm speaking of young, impressionable children. As kids get older, they will develop their own thought patterns, no doubt influenced by their parents. But their foundation of interaction with others can be established at a young age.

I am not a member of any religion and do not have a belief in any God. By this definition, I am an atheist and make no secret of that. But, this article isn't about my beliefs or whether I think anyone else's beliefs have merit. It isn't about what's right and wrong for us. This is about our children. And a hope for the future.

This is more of an open plea to all parents. Let's help our children live in a more harmonious, peaceful society, regardless of our religious beliefs or lack thereof. Can we do it, for their sake?

If you have already made an excuse about why you should be exempt from this, about how your beliefs are so absolutely correct that you don't care if your children use hate and ridicule to perpetuate them, then this may be lost on you and you are probably done reading.

But if not, and like me, you are tired of all the hatred in the name of religion, then join me. Let's vow to teach our children basic human compassion. If this atheist knows it's the right thing to do, perhaps your moral compass points in the same direction.

Can we teach our children that no matter what someone else believes or doesn't, that they should be nice to each other, respectful and thoughtful. Aren't those qualities we should want our kids to have and show the world? There is no reason a child should be ridiculed or bullied or ostracized on the playground because they are different than other kids in any way, including religion or lack of it. This acceptance of differences used to be more commonly taught, but seems to have taken a fall. Bullying is common and some parents think it's just a normal part of growing up. It's not and it's dangerous. Kindness shouldn't go out of style.

I realize that no one is obligated to listen to a word I say. I'm not an expert on child psychology, just a mom who hopes for a better world for all of our children.

Is this OK? Does it give you any sense of what a future would be like if we all taught our children to hate?

Yes, the Westboro Baptist Church is extreme. But, if children hear their parents talking about how much better their religion is than others, if they hear adults talking about how atheists or people who don't go to church or belong to other religions are "satan" or are going to hell, it's hard for them to separate that from how they treat people, mostly other kids.

You may be able to maintain social decorum, go to work and interact with people of other faiths and beliefs without acting on your distaste for their beliefs, but children don't have that filter. They will hurt and ridicule and bully and isolate other "different" children.

My plea is this...





****Please, please can we teach our children to be tolerant, to treat others well regardless of their religion (or color of their skin, or socio-economic class, or whatever).****

And by teach, I mean set a good example. You can tell your children to be nice, but they are more likely to follow your example than your instructions. Please be careful of what your children see you do and hear you say with regards to different beliefs.

I realize this sounds a little hippy-love like or polly-anna, BUT these lessons that kids learn when they are young are actually valuable lessons for their lives. And should they really be fighting over something that they are not old enough to fully understand?

If that isn't good enough, then ask yourself...."What would Jesus do?"

Should children really be hating based on religious beliefs?
Should children really be hating based on religious beliefs?

Conversation with My Five Year Old

E: Mommy, what is God?

ME: Why do you ask sweetie?

E: Because kids at school talk about God and wonder why I don't go to church.

ME: There are a lot of things that we don't understand like why the world is so big and why there are different kinds of people and why things happen the way they do. Many people believe those things are because of God. They think God made the whole world and the universe and controls what happens in the world sometimes. It makes it easier to explain all those things that we don't understand. Remember in preschool when they would thank God for their lunch by praying? That's the God they are talking about (he went to a preschool loosely associated with a Catholic church). People go to church to learn about and thank their God for things.

E: Do you believe in God, mommy?

ME: Well, honey I don't know the answers to all those questions either, but I don't believe in a God as the explanation, no.

E: Do I believe in God?

ME: That's for you to decide but you are probably too young to really understand now. You will learn more about all of this as you get older. Don't worry about it now too much, ok.

E: Ok, mommy. What should I say to the other kids? Should I say that God isn't real?

ME: No honey. Do not tell other kids that what they believe or what their mommy and daddy believe is wrong. People get very upset about things that have to do with God. Everyone is free to think and believe what they want. Just play and have fun. If the other kids are ever mean to you about this, let me know, ok?

E: They weren't too mean, mommy, but they said that I should believe in God and I'm bad if I don't. Is that true?

ME: No, you are not bad, just different on this and that's ok. People are different in lots of ways, it doesn't make them bad and you are not bad. Just smile and say "ok, let's go finish playing." Don't fight about it or let what they say bother you. Be a nice kid just like we always talk about and keep being nice.

E: Yeah, that's what we did - we went and finished playing police chase. I was the police and we had a jail over in the snow...

ME: Good, honey, good. Tell mommy if anyone says anything else.

This interaction ended well with the kids. But, it could have been different if the other kids (or if my kid) were confrontational. I hope until the kids are really old enough to understand and have reasons for what they believe or not believe, they continue to just dismiss the differences as they did. I hope more, overall, though that they will use these skills of diplomacy as they get older. Even if they disagree with someone, perhaps it isn't necessary to hate.

You don't have to TELL children to hate or treat others badly because of their religion, they MIMIC what they hear from adults in their lives. So my humble request is for all of us to be careful to set a good example. The words you say and the attitude you present will be reflected in your child's behavior.

I will not presume to tell anyone else how to raise their children. But, because how you raise yours affects my child's life through their interactions, I have to ask this one favor.


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    • parrster profile image

      Richard Parr 

      6 years ago from Australia

      Well presented and sound advice. From my own observations of children, they are imitators. What they hear generally plays second fiddle to what they observe. Adult reasoning being beyond them, they are limited to duplicating the standards of behaviour they witness through the meaningful adults in their lives.

      In the cases I have witnessed of childhood bullying and intimidation, it was rarely beliefs that were the issue, but poor adult example.

      This is why most religious and evangelical families have loving, compassionate and peace-loving kids; because that's what the the kids see in the parents.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Thank you, TahoeDoc. I agree with your comment 100%. Kids should not be used as proxies in debates for which they are not equipped. (Then again -- perhaps that's how they become equipped?).

      Also, I know the audience that you intended for your column. I am not part of that audience, for the most part. So my criticism is on very weak ground already.

      Thanks for your column and your response.

    • TahoeDoc profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Lake Tahoe, California

      idahogie- I get your point, but I do not think 5 year olds should be fighting about things they don't really understand. Young children cannot possibly understand, so I ask that we all be careful around our children about how we sound and act because they will mimic it. There is no reason that a school playground should be the site of a fight over religion.

      As an adult, I do not hide my atheism. I express my opinions freely, but politely when I can. People who feel attacked immediately shut off any receptivity. I prefer to try to keep the defenses down when presenting my point of view. For me, that is more useful and effective in getting others to consider a different worldview. Aside from that, I continue to be an empathetic, kind, helpful person and let my actions speak for themselves.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      That was interesting, but I don't think I can agree. I don't want to be an a(jerk)hole atheist (and we all know some). I don't want my kids to be that, either. But I don't think that your answer is the right one -- other than being polite to each other.

      Beyond civility, your suggestion is that we atheists not outwardly call religious belief into question. But the faithful for the most part don't recognize such boundaries. They will continue to outwardly thank god and proselytize for their religion. It's part of their obligation (for most theists in the US, anyway).

      This just enforces the double standard that we have lived with as atheists for centuries.

      I think that we atheists should be just as vocal and outspoken as theists are in our society. There should be as many public reminders that faith is unnecessary as there are reminders that faith is a good thing. And for believing that, I am what is called a "militant atheist."

    • TahoeDoc profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Lake Tahoe, California

      Just wanted to thank everyone who has read and/or commented on this hub. I really hope more people feel this way than it seems from watching the news and so on.

    • LauraGT profile image


      8 years ago from MA

      Thanks for this important hub. I love the conversation with your child. Growing up as an atheist in the south, I often had to defend myself. People could not fathom where I got my morals from. Interesting, since I see myself as a very moral person, but it's from my self, not from some external force telling me what is right and wrong.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this sometimes touchy issue!

    • NiaLee profile image


      8 years ago from BIG APPLE

      I understand you and appreciate what you said, coming from one religion and studying others and ending up being a free believer i teach my children the basic principles that I believe set an example for right and wrong and help them being healthy and happy... and let others be. I have been a pariah because I questioned and wandered spiritually, I don't want to be part of that torture and injustice and won't teach my kids to do that kind of things.

      The main point, Being Love and Peace will fulfill you and spread goodness.

    • profile image


      9 years ago from Dayton, ohio

      I understand your point and share your concern. I am a member of the Mormon faith. I was not raised with any religous beliefs at all. But my parents were good people who taught us kids to be respectfull of others no matter their race, religion or any other differences.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      My son didn't want to go to religious ed at school (he has Asperger's of the rigid black & white thinking variety). I said it might be good for him to go, even if it is to gain knowledge of what they believe, to come up with arguments against it ie can't just say they believe rubbish, if don't know what it is they believe. Anyway, we made him go, as we thought it would be good for him to gain tolerance of being in situations he doesn't like

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      I struggle with this issue because I want to raise kids who are skeptical of religious claims but who respect people who are believers. I expose my 5 year old to a lot of different belief systems and say some people believe in these things. I hope that by exposing her to a wide variety of beliefs that she will develop skepticism without having to be directly told that people who believe these things are wrong.

    • Slave2No1 profile image


      9 years ago from Oneida, NY

      Any difference in a culture's mode of thought(s), which definitely can include a deity worship, has certainly been the cause of ALL wars, one way or another. When it isn't blatant (as with the Crusades) & other issues get the blame, religion is still cheer-leading the troops on the sidelines, while partying with the generals back home. Most religions promote peace on one hand, yet instigate contempt for any differing views on the other. When a culture claims to 'defend our way of life against all evil', history shows us that they have a bad habit of becoming that very evil in the process. How does any religion logically justify that? ... they can't, because (notoriously) religions aren't based in or on logic.

    • TahoeDoc profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Lake Tahoe, California

      Thank you both for your comments. My approach will just be to teach my kids from an early age that it's ok not to know all the answers. Ask questions, investigate and draw some conclusions based on reality. Other things you will not be able to figure out and that's ok. You don't have to 'sign on' to one just because other people do. It's ok just not to know. For me, that's what makes a kid/person more likely to be open and accepting of others. If you already have the preconceived idea that you have the one true answer, then you are going to believe that others are not as privileged or as special as you are. This, to me, is what leads to comtempt and hatred that in the right setting leads to violence and war.

    • Mandeeadair profile image


      9 years ago from California

      I love this and I have a five year old that asks questions I don't have the answers to as well. I want her to accept all religions, not shy away from anyone who believes differently but to accept them. Thank you for this. It is a well needed article in our society today. It is sad that different religious beliefs can start wars, and breed such hatred, it is so important to teach our children another way. Voted up and beautiful, I enjoy your writing style.

    • Slave2No1 profile image


      9 years ago from Oneida, NY

      Although I'm a man, I fully understand your 'motherly' concerns and direct involvement, especially since my own Mother was well-educated in child guidance (by her own mother & formal college), ran her own pre-school nursery business for 25 years and 5 years prior to that for someone else's pre-school. Obviously, I was lucky to be privy to her teachings; I even helped out at times when I wasn't on the road. The focus was always on helping every child to learn about the love of knowledge, never imposing any religious doctrine, simply because she took in children of many different faiths, even some from dual-faith families. If an up-coming 'holiday' was to be understood and enjoyed for what it was &/or why it was, she did her best to minimize any possible conflicting religious involvements that celebrated (or didn't) as well, regarding those particularly special days.

      Nearly every student she taught was inspired to do their best in school and even go on to attend college. She was invited to their graduation parties, which in later years, literally filled her summer week-ends. This continued well-after she retired and I became her driver to these events. I noticed that in a lot of cases, she was the only teacher in that person's life who attended, or was even asked to attend. Quite the legacy (IMHO) for the second of nine children who were all brought up on a turn-of-the-twentieth-century Welsh dairy farm in Vestal, NY.

      What I primarily learned from her was that being a guide to knowledge is the same as a geographic destination, in that you help them get to a point where they want to go (in their best interest and least difficult route), not where you chose to lead them. One must invest in the child's hopes and dreams, because our dream should be that they are allowed every opportunity to fulfill theirs... nothing more, nothing less.

    • TahoeDoc profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Lake Tahoe, California

      Thank you for commenting, and what nice things to say. I almost didn't write this and then I almost didn't publish it. I hadn't really written anything where I put myself out there. But, I really feel as a mother, that it is my duty to do everything I can to make the world better for my kids and others' kids. Will this change anyone or anything? Maybe not, but I have to try.

    • Slave2No1 profile image


      9 years ago from Oneida, NY

      This was one of the best and most intelligent reads I have ever come across, anywhere. I wish I could express myself and POV as well as you do. The difficulty lies in the multi-meanings of words we may use to try and be very specific about a subject, yet some people can read it (& take it) in a totally different way, which was never intended. It's not easy to chose the 'right' words to put down in or as text, let alone the issue of proper interpretation(s) of homonyms when we speak. I spend a long time composing, editing, re-reading, spell- and grammar-checking, plus evaluating almost everything I write. (BTW: I'm guessing you meant think, not thing, just above the video. I've missed catching my own typos many times myself; embarrassing when you can't re-edit.)

      Anyway, standing up for sanity in this world is the right thing to do, and I applaud you for it, even if it makes those who protest, just a little bit more insane.

      Ugly minds do not like mirrors and don't see how they only contribute to the absurdities of (& in) life by refusing to ever look at themselves, with any insight as to how far off-center they actually are (from what should be normal), or ever admitting that it's in any way even a possibility. The lyrics of the song "For What It's Worth", by Buffalo Springfield, express the point very well: "Nobody's right, if everybody's wrong."

      Unlike any narrow-minded doctrines, my POV is one that allows for the possibility of being wrong, even if I adamantly doubt it, simply because I base my POV on scientific facts and pure logic, not on some ancient ramblings that are 'validated' through a collection of moldy morality stories. Many people find more comfort and guide in legends and other 'fairy tales' than in musty old tomes. Knowing who said "Give me a child under five and I'll make them into whatever I want them to be" used by self-serving people, could be a scary predictor of & for humanity's possible future. What MUST be passed on to our children and theirs, more than anything else, is the simplest and best of all teachings... the 'Golden Rule'.

    • TahoeDoc profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Lake Tahoe, California

      Everyone thank you! It gives me some hope that, at least some of our children will be kind.

      @6Hotfingers-- thank you for your kind comment. Also, thank you for politely answering my other question, even though you know I'm not a believer or Christian. Not everyone is so kind and respectul. That is exactly how I want to raise my children to behave and hope that others do too. You are a good example of how to treat even others that we don't agree with :)


    • 6hotfingers3 profile image


      9 years ago

      I rated your Hub useful because it is sharing the subject of God from that of a person who firmly believes differently. I respect you for that. Though I am a Christian, I believe God is expressed to our children the way we live. The way we treat people and the way we open ourselves to differences without a need to have them believe the same as we believe.

    • TahoeDoc profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Lake Tahoe, California

      I actually linked that one to the Krakauer hub about "Under the Banner of Heaven" - thanks Austin

    • Austinstar profile image


      9 years ago from Somewhere near the heart of Texas

      Bailey Bear just wrote a hub about how children are abused by cults and how hard it is to break away from the cults. It may have some bearing on this hub by relating what goes on.

    • teamrn profile image


      9 years ago from Chicago

      TahoeDoc, Wonderful lesson of tolerance in this era of 'not-so-tolerant!' Not a parent, you may take issue with things I say, but IMHO, children need, and take their guidance, take their lead from parents, neighbors, church or whomever is their role model. Parental responsibility BEGINS, not ends, at conception, and never really ceases. I've seen enough examples where this isn't the case. Then again, it may be that there are differences between the way I THINK I'd raise a child, and they way they DO.

      If there are toxic influences in the parent's life, parents should shelter their children from them until children are old enough to decide for themselves how close they want to be to drunken, always drugged Uncle Bob.

      The fact that children at Westboro are indoctrinated from such a young age is a telling thing. What's more telling and scary is that their parents, supposedly responsible, allow this to 'go on.' They think they're RIGHT and everyone else, by definition is WRONG. At the risk of sounding judgmental, I believe that they've abdicated their parental responsibility; the part of the parental 'code' which says "first do no harm."

      There are short term consequences and long-term consequences to their behavior. Short-term may be the glory parents get from their Church. But long-term legal consequences are usually faced by their children when those darling 7 years olds become violent adults out of misplaced hatred. All because the parents lead a life preaching hate and the child, in absence of any other role model, emulated it.

    • Elena. profile image


      9 years ago from Madrid

      Wonderful, TahoeDoc, I'm really glad I stopped by! I was lucky to have parents much like you seem to be with your young one, they basically left it up to me to decide what was what, and the only "verbal spanking" I ever got from them, my dad specially, was when I tried to judge what others thought of god or religion or those non earthly things where I didn't see eye to eye with them. I even wrote a hub about my Sunday School foray :-)

      I SO hope the future is made up of kids raised like yours. Beautiful piece!

    • TahoeDoc profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Lake Tahoe, California

      thank you Jillian. My child's experience and especially your story about your granddaughter that you posted on one of my other hubs ( inspired this. So this one's for you...and your granddaughter.

    • Jillian Barclay profile image

      Donna Lichtenfels 

      9 years ago from California, USA

      Thank you! This is perfect! Of course, it made me cry! I don't remember my own children having conversations about religion or lack of it with their friends. Maybe they did and I just never knew, but I doubt it.

      I think that many parents today have become inflexible, with everyone insisting that their way is the only way, so of course their children model the behavior. It is a sad thing to see.

      Thank you again for a beautiful piece of writing. I will be sending this to my daughter.

    • TahoeDoc profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Lake Tahoe, California

      Thanks AustinStar! Not sure if it will affect anyone who isn't already inclined to set a good example, but I just had to ask. Even having my child being told he was "bad" for not going to church by other kids, who clearly heard it from their parents made me so sad. The kids all seemed to blow it off and go on their merry, playing way, but it might not always be like that. It scares me. And if I thought my child was "making fun" or ridiculing or bullying someone for their beliefs that I don't agree with, I'd be mortified and ashamed. I just want people to think about it.

    • Austinstar profile image


      9 years ago from Somewhere near the heart of Texas

      Rated beautiful and shared with everyone I know. Very nice piece of writing. I hope those with children read this.


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