As a child development specialist, I have found that religious holidays have different meanings for individuals and their families. Parents may begin to celebrate various rituals in their homes with their children at a very young age. For instance, an Orthodox Jewish family may celebrate the Sabbath every Friday night with a dinner and prayers. A Catholic family might celebrate Lent 40 days before Easter in which they pray, fast and contemplate their spiritual beliefs. A Muslim family may celebrate Ramadan on the 9th month of the Muslim year by fasting and praying. Other families may be Agnostic or Atheist and not believe in a God or Gods.
Children generally become logical thinkers around 7 to 11 years old. This thinking allows them to have a basic understanding of the meaning by studying and attending Sunday school classes and learning some of their religious beliefs. Some children prior to the age of 5 attend religious preschool programs and are aware of the differences in others.
Often times living in America, we have commercialized Holidays by defining “Christmas” as a time of purchasing presents, singing Christmas carols, decorating our homes and our children may not understand the true meaning of the religious belief. As a parent, it is critical that we help our children understand their religious background by reading a children’s story or through acting and role playing the meaning of each bible story and holiday. Also, by creating a children’s art project such as making an ornament for the tree or baking a holiday treat, they can begin to make connections developmentally about the meaning of the holiday.
Tips or strategies for helping kids understand religious differences and being tolerant:
1. Make sure you speak to your child when they are age appropriate. If they have a friend or classmate who doesn’t celebrate Christmas, but they celebrate Hanukkah, then google what that religious meaning may be and explain to them about the 8 days the family celebrates their holiday verses the one day Christian’s celebrate Christmas.
3. Expose your child to many different religious groups by taking them to other churches, temples, synagogues, etc. It is estimated that more than half of all children raised in America will usually adopt their family’s religious values and practice their religious beliefs throughout their own adulthood. Even with mixed marriages often time’s couples will practice both religions in their home.
4. Try not to explain religion in a fearful manor such as making statements to a child by saying, “Suzy will go to hell because she doesn’t believe in Jesus”. Children take things literally not figuratively and can have frightening dreams when they are taught these religious dogmas.
5. If a child wants to send a Christmas card to a Muslim or Jewish friend, then allow your child to express themselves by making their own card to wish them a happy holiday/season.
6. If your child comes home with a question about other religions, take the time to research or go to the library and read them different stories relating to each question that they are curious about in order for them to understand a new religion.
We are living in a very frightening situation when it comes to acceptance and religious tolerance by seeing so many shootings and terrorist acts. We must come together and begin teaching religious tolerance to our children so that we can end hatred and prejudice in our society. Each parent is responsible for giving this important message to their children to stop the bullying and cruelty in our schools as well.