How can I explain religion to my 5 year-old son when his 8 year old cousin preaches it when she comes over to play?
MOLLY: We received this question from a reader who also mentioned that the cousin attends a Catholic school and even though their family is Catholic as well, they are not as religious (they don’t pray before dinner or go to church…). The cousin came over to play and told her son about heaven, hell and choosing the path of evil or good, which really scared him. Should she say something to the 8 year-old cousin and also how can she approach her brother and sister-in-law about it?
Dr. Susan Rutherford (MOM): Well she should approach both the parents and the child in a similar way. What she can say to all of them – maybe she does it separately but she could also do it with all three present – she could say, “We understand that the cousin is learning all about religion in Catholic school and we think that’s great, but our son really isn’t ready for all of this and we would like to be the ones to help him understand religion. So it would be really helpful if our niece would let us teach our son about religion. When he’s older, then they can talk about it together. But for now, we would like to be the ones who help him understand what religion is all about.” She could say that to her niece in a very kind and gentle way, and she should also tell her in-laws, so that they know what’s going on and how she feels about it.
MOLLY: The brother and sister-in-law might feel that she’s telling them that she’s offended by their Catholicism.
MOM: Well then she could say, very bluntly, “No, I’m not offended by Catholicism. I’m actually not offended by any religion, but we as parents would like to be the ones to talk to our kids about religion. We agree that it’s important, and we think it’s great that your daughter is in school and learning all about it, but we would like to be the ones to teach our son. And that we hope that will be okay with you.”
MOLLY: What do you think the reaction will be?
MOM: I think they’ll be okay with it. If it’s presented in a non-judgmental, non-attacking way, I think all three of them will accept it. If they don’t accept it, you’ll have to go to the next stage.
Suppose the niece continues to talk about heaven and hell even after this initial conversation, then she has to say to her niece, “You know, I hear that you’ve been talking about religion again with our son and we really would prefer if he didn’t learn about religion from you. If it’s too hard for you not to talk about religion with your little cousin, we’ll have to hold off on play dates until we have spoken more about it to him. We might not be ready to do this for a while. Can we count on you to keep it to yourself until then?”
So in sense she’ll be saying to the niece that she has to make a choice about this and decide if she’d rather talk about religion than play with her cousin.
It’s understandable that an 8-year old who is immersed in a religion through her school and home life would bring up religious teachings because, after all, that is a big part of her life. But if she can’t respect her aunt’s wishes, then play time might have to be monitored until she can learn that many view religion as a personal subject and conversation about it is not always welcomed. This is a lesson that will serve her well as she goes through life.
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