Religion should ideally be learnt by ‘watching and participating’ with family members. That is why most religions have a baptism or name ceremony etc. early in life. This is the child’s first initiation into the customs of the religion and usually these are held in places of worship or conducted by priests. Religion like other important learning should be ‘known to unknown’ so the idea of religion should be given to children from the safe haven of ‘laps, hugs, bed time stories, celebrations’ etc.
Religion is understood in three ways by young minds, so be careful of what they are associating religion with, best to give kids a balanced view and perspective -
1. Religion as a custom and tradition- so kids learn to touch feet of elders or do namaz or go to a temple and do aarti or light a candle etc.
2. Religion as a moral police- kids learn about ‘God’ as the biggest ‘policeman’ so do not lie or god will be angry, or you will go to hell or heaven.
3. Religion as a celebration- here kids look at the celebration aspect of the religion, so the festivals means social gatherings, material gains, food, money, and sometimes helping others as part of the celebration.
Religion and how a child is taught about religion can have a profound impact on the child’s view of the world and ability to respect others view points.
· Positive impact of religion if taught correctly- then children grow up with a conscience, first governed by ‘pleasing god’ and then internalizing the process and making it a part of life and behavior.
· If not taught correctly- then children grow up with biases against other religions, labeling others based on their religion. This can end up negatively impacting their life decisions both socially and emotionally. It can make them tyrants or bullies against people of another religion because they were brought up to think of them as bad. It can make them less empathetic and sympathetic towards people from these religions and can mar their ability to make friends, take wise decisions in life and even in their careers and jobs. It adds to the making the world a less tolerant place and will then lead to more religious terrorism.
Here are 8 simple things that parents should do to raise children that will grow up with a healthy attitude towards religion.
1. Do not enroll kids in a school or educational institution that believes or practices only one religion. Even if it is your own. This makes kids less tolerant and knowledgeable about other religions. Put them in religion classes if you want after school or Sunday school or Koran school.
2. Expose kids to all faiths by telling them stories from all religions. The best way to do that is to celebrate all festivals that schools give as a holiday. Talk about the holiday, what festival is it, which religion celebrates it, how they celebrate it, why they celebrate, how it has evolved over the years and maybe a story related to the same. This will give children a healthy attitude towards all religions, cultures and celebrations and some basic knowledge about different gods and customs.
3. Be careful about the myths and superstitions, as they should not be passed down, nor are they part of any religious texts.
4. If you do not want the child to visit other religious places other than your own then make it clear to your child with the reason at the age that the child can understand. Till then make the rule clear to the adults taking care of the child.
5. Do not use religion to create boundaries or teach morals or scare children into behaving. God should not be used for such things. When you use it like that with children then it can manifest itself as religious terrorism in adulthood. After all you used religion to terrorize into behaving then the learning will be used by children when they grow up to be young adults.
6. As children become old enough to use social networking sites teach them not to ridicule, laugh, criticize any religion or comment or participate in any unhealthy posts, likes or forwards to do with religion. Religion is a private matter of the individual and the family and we should respect points of view.
7. If both parents practice different religions then it is best that the child is exposed equally to both religions. Best if each parent or grandparent takes up the responsibility for their religion so as to give the child the right perspective and balance of both.
8. Do not generalize based on religion, especially during family debates and discussions. We have a habit to even categorize and label animals, we say sly as a wolf etc. lets leave it to that. Let us not label a Hindu as this or a Muslim as that. Children must know that every Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Jew, Sikh etc. is different and just because one has made a mistake it does not mean the entire sect should be labeled.
Parts of the above article have also been featured in a Mumbai Mirror article ‘Talking God’ by Nasrin Modak-Siddiqi, check it out on http://epaperbeta.timesofindia.com/Article.aspx?eid=31821&articlexml=Talking-God-03062015026016