There are no definitive answers to difficult questions, but there are good ones. –Rabbi David Wolpe *
As a child’s brain continues to develop, cognitive powers of reasoning and critical thinking interact with their human spirit. Children now test assumptions and voice doubts. Their questions become more difficult to answer: What is religion? Why do some people pray?
If they ask these questions of us, we must address them. After all, who among us is satisfied to give children an intellectual, but not a moral or spiritual, education?
Design your own approach from these 5 principles:
Think before they ask
Make yourself aware of your own assumptions, just as you would when discussing anything else. For example, if they bring up purpose and meaning of life, what do you wish to convey to the child, that they are accidents or beings with purpose? That human beings are the supreme power or that there’s a higher power than humans? That a wrong act is okay if nobody ever knows about it?
Whatever your philosophy on matters like these, you owe children an honest and searching discussion– more likely to occur when you know your view of the universe.
Assume they know what they are looking for
Remember that an older child’s questions arise from already established beliefs collected in their earlier years. Studies continue to confirm that children by the age of 6 are guided by a conscience and have some developed concept of God. Ask them what they already think. They are looking to you to provide them with information that sheds more light on their core beliefs.
Help them know where to locate source material
Do an internet search for God and you will find 629,000,000 results. How does an adult even read all of it, much less evaluate it? This search proves to be a daunting task for children and adults alike.
Is it any surprise that almost all of us start looking for reliable sources of information within our own family traditions? What was your family’s source of information? Maybe you have not stopped to reflect on where your parents and caregivers acquired the knowledge they used to inform your early thought processes. How did they educate themselves in spiritual matters? What can you take from their model to use with the children in your life?
Introduce them to sacred writings
In addition to learning from the living community around them, children can study spiritual wisdom from the writings of the past. These texts can take children outside of themselves, their family system and their community of friends. They encounter words of God, acts of God, eternal questions, and laws or principles of life existing wholly apart from them. They face an objective standard in the sense that the texts exist on their own merit and they must evaluate that merit.
Find trustworthy people outside your family
The older children get, the more important influences from outside the family circle will become. Sometimes it’s just easier to talk to someone other than mom or dad. And sometimes mom or dad are quite glad to get some outside help with spiritual education. That’s when many begin to look for some kind of faith community.
Allow yourself to be open to the direction that spiritual exploration can take you. Once again, as so often, through teaching our children, we learn.
*Thanks to Rabbi Wolpe for sharpening my thinking on a couple of these principles.
5 principles help parents design a response to an older child’s doubts and questions. Click to Tweet