My five and a half year old son hasn't been exposed to any religious ideas in our home and our immediate circle of friends, and though we knew these ideas would come into his life one day, we were hoping it would be later than this and something easier to deal with....
He goes to a small, secular private school that has about 35 students ranging from preschool to second grade and from many different cultural and religious backgrounds. They are very careful to avoid religious instruction, but kids do talk to each other and share their ideas, so I'm sure my son has heard some religious talk there.
One of his classmates passed away this weekend, suddenly and unexpectedly from a bacterial infection. The boy was only six years old and the staff, students and families are all grieving. Counselors were brought in and the boys parents even came in to be with the kids while the counselors were there. I sat with the class and watched the counselors read a couple of books about dying to the kids. There were short mentions of religious beliefs, but no assertions about where people go when they die, just explaining that some people believe this or that etc.
My son came home from school yesterday telling me these facts: C. is in heaven with god and also in a box in the cemetery. I just asked him a few questions about what he thinks and left it at that.
I'm interested in input from you folks about discussing these ideas with a five year old. I am against saying things like "heaven doesn't exist" or "there's no such thing as God", but I feel a little unprepared for this. So far it hasn't been brought up again, but we plan on attending the memorial (I don't know if it will be religious or not, but it's not at a church) and I know there will be more discussions to come.
Thanks for your time,
Cheers,
Alexis

Tags: death, god, kids

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I did try to explain that no one really knows what happens after death, but he was already done with the conversation after he made his announcement, and I know better than to try to engage a five year old after he's moved on from the subject.
Here's hoping the memorial is secular.....
My daughter (14) came home yesterday and told me something interesting. We talk about the 'Big Questions' all the time. I have been very clear with her that I encourage her to explore her own line of thinking and to never dismiss anyone's ideas as long as they are being respectful to her and those around them.

She knows more about most religions than kids who 'practice' them - mostly from a kind of anthropological, historical, and mythological perspective. For now, she totally gets atheism. This past year she lost her atheist grandfather and her very Catholic grandmother. There was no lack of love or respect there for either of these people in her life.

Anyway, she has a friend from a deeply religious family. She came home and told me that they had 'reached a compromise' and decided there was nothing wrong with accepting that God made the universe but evolution was how it worked. Well, I had to explain to her that, while I didn't think she needed to work too hard trying to convince her friend otherwise, I also thought it was shaky logic to accept her friend's god in the role they had given him.

To my relief, she listened, and then said: "Yeah, I know, but sometimes you gotta give people some slack when it's no skin off your teeth." I told her that was fair enough - but I would protest like crazy if her parents tried to get that taught as science in the schools. She told me she would help paint signs and picket right next to me if that happened.

Lol. I have a great kid.
Yeah - I was kind of shocked and I know her. Lol.
You do have a great kid; I hope I can raise mine to think that clearly!
Hi Glen,
My boy has experienced the death of three animals recently. We had to put two pet cats down over the summer, then just recently a dog belonging to a family member was attacked by a larger, unknown dog and, without bloodshed, died in front of the whole family. We have decided to go without pets for a time.....
I'm not so worried about his acceptance or understanding of death and its ramifications, it's the religion and god part I'm worried about.
I think kids need to experiment with their own beleifs. Just becuase you tell them one thing does not mean they will choose to beleive you over a teacher of friend any ways. I mean how many of us on here were raise to beleive god is real? I think giving him the knowledge to see the full picture will cuase him over time to come to Atheist Naturally. I believed the Greeks gods were as real as the bible god when i was a kid and all the doubt in them and explanations of how they were just used to explain thing we now know how they work made me come to the same conclusion about everyone elses gods. My Aunt and Uncle Flat out make fun of the stupidity of christianity and raised their kids as such and their middle child is a Fundy now, my aunt brother who was raised Athiest with her is now mormon. People have to find their own ways the best you can do is paint a picture that allows them to see things as clear as possible so they can make the best choices for themselves, make sure these idea of heaven and god doesn't seperate itself too much from how he views fictional tv chracters or other myths and fairytales so as he grows away from them he will naturally keep these other outside veiws as childish and pretend.
This is unusual because he lost a peer. The school bringing in a councilor that did not push one view surely helped. Did they offer any follow-up for interested parents? Have you been able to talk with other parents of his class mates, especially secular ones, to see how their child(ren) have handled this?
Children will get religious messages from peers and it can be very frustrating at the best of times, but Jon's statements are accurate, children are pantheists from the get go.
Your son seems to have come to some sort of decision and listening and waiting for him to talk more when he's ready is the direction I would go myself, unless of course, he showed any clear signs of needing more, which is does not sound like he has.
Don't have kids, but 'd be straight up. No one ever tiptoed around any subject with me. Not that I ever even asked adults questions, as I recall, past toddler age. I simply observed. Man, 'm glad people left me alone.

Don't know what to tell you. If I were you I would just expound the beauty of nature and its cycles and make sure to explain that death is just a dreamless nap that lasts forever 'cause life is hard and tiring. :D
I'd hesitate to hit a 5 year old with the full force of a reality that many adult minds are incapable of dealing with. Right now you are God to him. (surely it is rapidly fading), he just needs assurance that he is loved and safe.
My daughter told me today that our neighbor told her this morning, while she was riding her bike around culdesac, about heaven and hell and invited her to go to his church with his family tomorrow. That's very nice of him. So she was asking our permission to go! We said, yes, sure, but not tomorrow. She asked - when? - we answered - once you grow up and become mature enough not to be brainwashed, which is not yet, dear. I had to actually ask him not to talk to my kids about his religion. Hope it's cool with him, they (his family) are good people. So here is what she told me - our neighbors are not brainwashing me, they mean well and they truly believe in heaven, so how can it not be true, and I understand if they wanted something from me, but no, they only want me to have fun and learn about what happens after death. She wasn't happy to accept the fact that maybe(!), just maybe, it's just that they were brainwashed themselves.
About the death thing, shes was 6 when she got devastated that it's inevitable. I used Dawkin's idea to calm her down, I said: "You were dead long time before you were born, so there is no big deal there. You'll have a very long life, longer then you can imagine now, but when you die, you'll be where you always were before you were born." It's somehow easier for the little ones to accept something bad if the future if they consider they experienced it in the past.
This area always creeps me out i dont think adults, who are not relatives or teacher slash so on, should ever talk to Children about anything unless under the supervision of parents or other authority. Sounds like an abduction or molestation scenerio you hear in the news or movie, as i was readin your comment i istantly felt creeped out by the idea images of this weird ned flanders type oddly asking a child to go with him and his family to church instead of bringing it up to the parents its just creepy as all hell. I would be watching how he interects with other kids. Instead of bringing up brainwashing i would have told her that you disagree with what they beleive and you dont want them using her to further advance an idea that you think is bad. If you have to go further then that i would read her one of the bad and contradictory stories out of the bible and explain that is part of what these people beleiive and they thinks this book is how the world should work and you think that is miopic and small minded of them and think you should keep an open and reasonable mind about things. I think when you have a direct religion to argue and point out against it's easier but then the general idea of a god comes into the picture it's easier to dance around the bush and push it into the fairy tale world they will grow out of instead of argueing with an idea that doesnt have a basis to argue from yet becuase that idea of god is still able to morph around any arguement you may try to make becuase a kids sense of reality isn't always real.
I really don't think it's such a big thing what he told her, because, first, that's what his religion requires him to do - converse, "save" or whatever, and he is actually worried about a child being raised by non-believers and not having a chance to be "saved". I don't approve that, but I can understand it. Really. Second, adults and kids around her talk about Bible and Christianity all the time - she plays with his kids, for example, and kids of 3 other neighbors, 2 of which are also deeply religious. So, it wasn't molestation or anything, I think. That's just the way things are around here. We do talk to her a lot, but she is gradually becoming a teen who is not quite sure parents really know anything. It's ok, she'll go through this stage. Meanwhile, we try go make her read books on the subject (the last one she read was on humanism for young minds). She is naturally superstitious, so it will take her some time to come up with a reasonable view of the world. We are here to help, but we don't want to hide her from religious people completely. Kids need vaccinations from that kid of viruses, you know.

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