5 tips for educating children about religious diversity this holiday season
By Gabby Cushman
With the festive season fast approaching, your little ones may overhear their peers talking about celebrating different holidays than your family does. This time of year is a great opportunity to talk to your kids about religious diversity and freedom. Religious diversity is the fact that there are differences in our religious beliefs and practices, and religious freedom is the right people have to practice their own religion or even no religion. People will gravitate towards specific belief systems based on their family background, culture, or personal preference. However, some individuals strongly believe that their religious practice is the only “correct” one and will actively exclude or harass individuals from other religious backgrounds. Educating your little ones on the vast amount of beliefs and practices people can engage in and why our differences ultimately bring us together in celebrating our ways of life is essential. Here are five tips to start a conversation about religious diversity!
Start the conversation with your personal beliefs and practices
When learning about something new, it’s great for kids to have a frame of reference to start with that’s familiar to them. Start with religious beliefs or practices your family takes part in. If you identify as part of a religious group, break down some of that group’s core beliefs. Talk about if your extended family also holds those beliefs or if they practice a different religion. Examine how much your little one participates in your religious practices and what you may want to fill them in on.
If your family or your child doesn’t engage in a specific belief or practice, talk about what that’s like and how spirituality looks different for you. People who identify as agnostic or atheist can still recognize a feeling that there is something greater than the individual human experience or have a foundation they build their moral beliefs and practices upon. What does that look like to you, and how does that come out in the way you teach your child about the world?
Learn about different world religions together
There are numerous religions and beliefs worldwide, some well-known and some relatively unknown. It’s essential to learn about other belief systems to better understand the other people we encounter. Here is a starting list of different religions for you to learn about with your little ones:
Judaism: Jewish people practice Judaism and originate from the Israelites and Hebrews of historical Israel and Judah. The basis of Jewish law and tradition is their holy book, the Torah.
Islam: Muslim people practice the religion of Islam. Muslims consider the Quran, their holy book, to be the word of God as revealed to the Islamic prophet and messenger Muhammad.
Hinduism: Hindu people culturally, ethnically, or religiously adhere to aspects of Hinduism. Hinduism is an Indian religion or a way of life widely practised in the Indian subcontinent and parts of Southeast Asia. Their holy book is the Vedas.
Christianity: Christian people practice Christianity, a religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. Their holy book is the Bible.
Buddhism: Buddhist people practice Buddhism, a tradition that focuses on personal spiritual development. Buddhists strive for a deep insight into the true nature of life and do not worship gods or deities. The sacred book of Buddhism is called the Tripitaka.
Sikhism: Sikh people follow Sikhism, a religion that originated in the Punjab region of the Indian subcontinent. The fundamental beliefs of Sikhism, articulated in the sacred scripture Guru Granth Sahib, include faith and meditation on the name of the one creator, divine unity, and equality of all humankind.
Atheism: Atheist people do not believe in the existence of God or gods.
Agnosticism: Agnostic people believe that nothing is known or can be known of the existence or nature of God, so they claim neither faith nor disbelief in God.
These are only a few of the different religions and beliefs around the world. Do research to find others, and remember that one person can practice multiple religions or none at all.
Discuss similarities between different belief systems
After your children understand your personal belief system and have a basis for understanding other world religions, the next step is to identify what similarities they may have. Too often, the focus is on the differences between these religions, which can foster misunderstanding and insistence on only one belief system being “right.” Focusing on what these groups have in common brings people together and offers opportunities for learning and understanding. As mentioned in a previous section, most beliefs start on the foundation that there is something greater than us. There are likely also similar practices, values, and customs that have subtle differences from religion to religion but share the same base understanding. Try making a list of these similarities with your little ones to help them see the connection between different beliefs and practices.
Encourage interfaith friendships and learning from friends’ different beliefs
It’s likely that peers of different religious backgrounds already surround your kids. There may even be family members that practice religions other than you or your children. Ask your little ones about what they know about their friends’ beliefs and practices. Encourage them to start a conversation with their friends about this (if all parties are comfortable with the conversation). Talk about how your kids’ friends may participate in different customs or holidays, and remind them not to assume that everyone practices the same religion as your family. I remember one of my friends in school asking if I was Christain or Catholic, as if those were the only two options I could choose from since that was her basis of understanding on the topic. Assuming someone’s belief system can make them uncomfortable disclosing what they genuinely practice. Instead, encourage your little ones to ask, "Do you celebrate anything this time of year?” Be sure to remind your children that their friends may not be as comfortable talking about their religious practices as they are, and that’s okay.
Keep the conversation where you and your child are most comfortable
Religious freedom and diversity are very complex topics to discuss with your little ones. There’s a history of violence against and by religious groups that is still present today. If you would rather mainly touch on positive topics discussed in this blog, like similarities between belief systems, that’s fine. You know best what you feel is suitable for your little ones at this time. But if you and your child are comfortable with it, you can also talk about the religious groups and belief systems that are oppressed where you are. Whatever way you decide to have this conversation will be a valuable teaching moment for your kids.
These tips are starting points for an ongoing conversation about religious freedom and diversity with your children. Take the opportunity to highlight everyday examples of different spiritual practices. For example, you can teach them about other religious holidays besides the ones your family celebrates. Ultimately, the more your little ones learn about different religions and beliefs, the more accepting and understanding they will become as they meet people with practices other than theirs.
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