Who is God? Where is He (or She)? How can we hear His voice?
Children begin asking questions about God very early; parents’ answers help frame their lifelong relationship with Him.
“The age they begin questioning varies by child,” says Katie Dawson, Diocese of Orange director of Parish Faith Formation. “Some kids are more spiritually inclined than others. By age 6 it’s not unusual for kids to ask really deep questions – and the challenge is to bring the answers to a simple enough level so that they can understand.”
Dawson has several children and grandchildren and discourages other parents from offering kids any high-level theological explanations about God. She notes that theologians study the God question for their entire lifetimes. “Any answer you give your children will tend to be magical, because they believe that anything invisible is magical.”
It’s important that parents should communicate the first message of God to their children, Dawson says. “When a child sees her parents actually praying and reading Scripture, going to church and receiving the sacraments, this is something meaningful.”
To begin the discussion, she recommends a book she read as a child of 3 years old, “My Little Golden Book About God,” illustrated by well-known artist Eloise Wilken. “It has beautiful pictures of where you can find God, including in nature, in other people, in our father’s hug and our mother’s kiss,” Dawson recalls. “It ends with a sweet picture of a little girl looking up at a starry night sky and exclaiming, ‘God is all around me.’”
The book “was really important in my own religious understanding of God,” she says. “It contains the kind of narrative picture we want to provide kids, telling them that God is with us in every possible way. God is love. He calls us to be loving in response.”
Children ask all kinds of questions about God. Still, our answers can mystify little kids, such as explaining that God is in the sky or that He lives in another dimension. “They don’t know what that means,” Dawson notes. “We can say that we see God everywhere, in me and you and that He is all around us all the time, yet we can’t always see Him.
“When our children grow older they will ask more difficult questions, about why people suffer, experience disappointments, and why God doesn’t stop bad people from doing terrible things,” she adds. “These are the eternal questions.”
So, how should parents talk to their children about God and faith?
“If a parent experiences their own relationship with God as something meaningful, sustaining and strengthening, we very naturally want to offer that possibility to our kids at the youngest possible age,” she says.
Reading Bible stories for kids and sharing picture books about Bible stories are useful ways to introduce God to youngsters. “Storytelling is the most helpful tool in sharing our understanding of God with children,” Dawson says.
Why is it important to talk to young children about God?
“The question of identity is one of life’s most fundamental questions,” she notes. “Who am I, why do I exist, do I have a purpose? If we understand ourselves to be loved from the beginning by the Creator, we know our life’s purpose is to grow in loving God and others.
“Events in our lives and our relationships with others assume a very different perspective when we understand ourselves as uniquely loved,” she says. “Religious people have a much lower incidence of the negative outcomes in life.”