Whether you’re an ardent believer of your faith or a freethinker, there isn’t any possibility of stopping your child from meeting people of other religions. Whether you have discussed other religions with your child before or not, teaching your child about other religions and how to respect the faith as well as the people of that faith is one of the most important education you can give your child.
In a country as diverse as Malaysia, it is important that your child understands why there exist other religions besides his own. It is important for your child to know and understand that religion doesn’t restrict a person from being civilized, respectful and tolerant of those from other faith.
Breaching this subject with and to your child can be quite difficult, especially if you’re not comfortable with explaining the concept of other religions yourself.
However, there will be a time where the discussion proves necessary. Here are some ways to help you introduce the topic of discussing other religions with your child:
Understand Your Own Spiritual Values
It is a simple equation – You will understand when you know. Einstein said, “If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough.”
Before you can talk about or discuss other religions, it is very important that you understand all aspects of your religion first. You need to understand its practices, its applications, its significance and its values. When you thoroughly understand the whys of your religion, then you are able to explore other religions from an open perspective. Understanding your own religion first is key in appreciating, understanding and respecting other religions.
When you are able to acquire this, it will be easier for you to explain to your child the concept of other religions. You will need to explain it for him in simpler terms for you won’t always have the chance to let your child understand religion the way you did as your child may not be able to grasp the adult’s concept of understanding religion.
All Religion is of Love, Peace and Respect
While every believer of a faith ardently believes that his or her own religion is the one and only true religion, enforcing this concept on your child can be quite damaging. It limits the opportunity for open-ended discussions of other religions and it has the potential to confuse your child and perhaps to an extreme extent, turn him into a prejudiced believer that other religions are downright wrong.
Instead of telling your child what to think, parents should encourage their children to think and have an open mind from the early stages of childhood. Avoid closed conversations where you impose ultimatums like “This is the only way,” or “It has to be this way” because your child needs to grow up understanding that people have different opinions. When you restrict his thinking to these ultimatums, he will probably be confined to that idea all the way into his adulthood and prone to think less of others’ opinions.
Talk about faith and religion as being synonymous with love, peace and harmony rather than the ultimate wrath of God. Talk about faith and religion as being tolerant and accepting of one another rather than the punishments of hellfire. If a child learns from the beginning that there are endless possibilities when it comes to the Truth, the child will grow up to become one who would know how to tolerate the beliefs of others.
Talk About the Similarities Among the Religions
The more you learn about religion, the more you are able to see that they seem to have similar stories, similar messages and even similar characters.
Use these as tools in making your child understand that different religions are not that different after all. People of other religions know the same stories in your religion and vice versa. Emphasize on how these stories carry the same message of respecting one another and doing good onto others.
Acceptance through Religious Differences
When there are similarities, there are differences. Talk about the differences of the religions too in order to give your child a further in-depth understanding of the religions as a whole.
Use these differences to teach acceptance and tolerance of other religions. It is important to make your child understand that just because something is different doesn’t mean it’s wrong. This can’t be any truer when it comes to religious differences. Isolating your belief from others and painting a negative picture of other religions to your child is damaging to your child’s mentality development.
Always emphasize that all religions preach of love and peace. Make your child understand that faith comes with the responsibility towards humanity.
Welcome and Answer Every Question Calmly
Children are curious lot so you can and should expect many questions from your child when you discuss about religion (or any other topic for that matter). They are always wondering on why certain things happen the way they do so it will be no different when it comes to them understanding religion.
The most important thing is to answer every question they have in a calmed and composed manner without feeling emotional or provoked. Remember that your child questions are how he gains a better idea on what religion is. At times, you may feel attacked or placed on the spot with his questions and when in this situation, it is easier to brush his questions aside.
Hence, that is why it’s important for you to understand your religious and spiritual values first. Do not label his questions as those questions “that you just don’t ask”. This will only confuse your child more and send him the signal that you choose not to deal with something just because it’s difficult to explain.
Having an environment that encourages intelligent conversations and open-ended discussions at home can develop your child into an adult who is matured, wise and sensitive to others’ opinions. When it comes to educating your child about other religions, always emphasize on the positivity of the religions where the method is love, the aim is peace and the final destination is oneness with the Creator, no matter who that Creator is to a person.
Teaching your child to respect other religions can be key in upholding the peace and harmony of the community and country alike.