How to talk to kids about Religion, Psychiatrist Dr. Adly ElSheikh tells!

Babies don’t just come with their cute little faces and sweet tender souls, they come with question marks hanging over their heads and a thirst for knowledge that only parents can satisfy. One of many challenges of being a parent is having to answer your child’s questions, because whatever you fill his little curious head with, is what will shape his perceptions in the long run. God is one of the unsolved mysteries for children, and how you solve that mystery will determine a lot of things.

Despite all that, we were raised to know a number of widely shared misconceptions that have distorted our views on God and Religion. These false beliefs have long been passed down through the generations, polluting us with the wrong ideas.

1) The upside-down slipper

The upside-down slipper myth is quite widely spread; making kids believe that if they have their slippers upside-down by mistake it will be in the face of God and therefore is a huge mistake.

2) Food you didn’t eat will haunt you on doom’s day

A classic way to make children finish their food is to tell them that the food they won’t eat will haunt them on doom’s day.

3) God won’t love you

God won’t love you if you don’t clean your room, eat your food, do your homework…etc. This threat has been proven effective by parents who use it to convince their kids to be well behaved. But on another level, isn’t it quite traumatizing for a kid who is still trying to shape the idea of God in his mind?

4) Don’t read in the WC

Known as Satan’s home, we’ve all been told horror stories about staying in there for long, and for that reason reading in the bathroom has long been on top of the taboos list.

5) They will put a hot iron stick in your ear and eye if you eavesdrop or spy  

Even when we want to teach our kids something positive we somehow believe that the only way it is ever going to be convincing enough is to scare them to death!

To avoid ingraining these misconceptions in our children’s minds, we talked to psychiatrist Dr. Adly El-Sheikh who happily coached us on how to talk to kids about God. “The idea is to mainly know when a child is ready to comprehend this information. From age 7, a child can start understanding some abstract conceptions about God. Before you start talking about anything you need to make sure that you enjoy a strong relationship with your child. Building that bridge can facilitate anything else”, he tells.   

“Most of the people I see that suffer from misconceptions about God, were raised amongst conservative and religious families”

“There are several factors that shape a child’s perception of God, it doesn’t just depend on what parents say so any attempts to push a kid into loving God is doomed to fail. Most of the people I see that suffer from misconceptions about God, were raised amongst conservative and religious families where the pressure they were subjected to pushed them off the edge and encouraged resistance”, he adds.

To avoid generating this kind of pressure, Dr. Adly advises, “Start from the core, the moral code, teach him simple things about humanity and kindness while bearing in mind that exposure to too many religious messages at a young age can develop a defensive attitude”.   

“Sometimes parents stress on specific religious rituals like praying and fasting at a very early stage when the child isn’t even interested yet. When your child refuses to pray or fast, try to decode the message he is trying to tell you. Does he hate your parenting techniques in general? Or is this issue more about his own religious beliefs? Don’t just assume you know what it means”, he adds. “For the learning process to be successful, the child should be interested first in the topic. We must challenge some curiosity in our kids and not just make our talk sound like it is mere advice. Use any situation that happens in front of you to open up a conversation or discussion about topics. It could be a fight, an inappropriate behavior or a great example”, he suggests.

And while you are baby-stepping your way into this, there are big don’ts that you must avoid, “Don’t use “God” in small situations just because you are having a bad day and you want your child to do something. For instance, telling him/her that if they eat chocolate again God won’t love them distorts the perception more and more”, Dr. Adly warns.  

“When your child refuses to pray or fast, try to decode the message he is trying to tell you”

How do we want to be teachers when we don’t seem know anything about learning? “A human being basically learns through modeling to a very great extent rather than through talking. A parent shouldn’t just watch his tongue but rather all his behaviors. One of the major issues that generate conflict in kids’ minds, is the inconsistent messages they get from their parents. I can’t talk about a specific religious concept and not apply it myself”, Dr. Adly argues.  

When talking to your kids about religion, you are basically passing on your own beliefs but is it necessarily the ultimate truth? According to Dr. Adly, “We should always urge them to develop their own beliefs, to research, get curious, learn more, argue! We must accept that there will come a phase in their lives when they will go down the wrong path before they end up in the right one and we must let them without constantly trying to direct them”.

“There is no shame in telling your child that you don’t know something that they asked about”

“Ten years from now, the child we are talking about now will be exposed to a massive conflict between what his parents once told him and the scientific discoveries and internet knowledge. He will tell you that the Adam and Eve story doesn’t make sense with the big bang theory and then you must research with him, listen, and not completely disregard the matter”, Dr Adly suggests. “There is no shame in telling your child that you don’t know something that they asked about, instead of saying “Heya kda!” (it is just like that), try researching with him so you can understand together”, he adds.


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