After extensive research on this topic, I've concluded that the Internet overfloweth with advice for atheist children with Christian parents or atheist parents with young children wondering what religion is/is for. Unfortunately, there's little-to-no input about how grown persons with established relationships with kids can explain a personal, present change of faith to them. Some of the advice to atheist young people translates, e.g. not criticizing, emphasizing the personal journey, etc. However, this advice is all fundamentally assuming that the atheist in question will be addressing adult relatives and friends.
This topic is pertinent to me because I've recently come out as an atheist (to my family- my friends have known for years), and have realized that I never entirely considered how to approach the topic with younger members of my family. My thirteen-year-old brother I can be pleasantly frank with if he decides to bring it up, but I'm not sure how to explain the situation to my six- and nine-year-old nieces, should they ask questions when I visit. (They'll certainly hear of my 'condition' from the rest of the family, and the portrayal will not be positive on most counts, I'm afraid.) Moreover, since I was considered a "worship leader" in my church for many years, many friends who looked to me as a role model of sorts in that respect are now extremely disappointed and disillusioned with me, and most likely will remain so.
It occurred to me that parents who must tell their children that their religious beliefs have changed face a similar issue. And theirs is even more pressing, because their 'conversion' may well mean a change in church attendance for the family or severed connections with previously cherished friends or family members, whereas mine just meant I became a professed atheist who lives three states away instead of a closeted atheist who lives three states away. But there are stunningly few stories about this type of event. Is atheism in America so young? I didn't figure there would be as many adult-to-child confessions as child-to-adult, but I didn't expect not to find ANY.
The following Youtube video might offer some interesting fodder for this discussion. I think the mother could probably be a bit more sensitive, and we don't have any clues as to how she revealed the information, but the kid's reaction is similar to some of those I've dealt with from adults (albeit primarily through email). What do you guys think? Is there a good way for a newly atheist adult to speak to Christian children (thusly self-identified or parent-identified) about the loss of faith?
Their parents have the final word.
Here is a new approach to education on the subject. Hopefully it will be taken up elsewhere too.
Couldn't stand watching the whole video. I have grown children and had my share of kids screaming at me. Saw enough. I really think this child is too young. Substitute Santa Claus for God. I would assume a child this age believed in Santa unless I was told otherwise. If the child questioned me closely, my response would be along the order of "Yes, Virginia, there really is....." Certainly not my job to debunk the child's mythology. God is a much bigger myth than Santa. Santa is only omniscient as the season approaches, and his eschatology, though annual, is limited to presents under the tree. If a child this age asked me directly about my belief, it would be appropriate to respond by asking "well, what do you believe?" and affirming their mythology while educating them on the existence of other belief systems as their age and intellect can handle. Most children stop believing in Santa by 8 or 9, though some go past that. I think they need to get safely past Santa before seriously tackling god.
I'd probably be as vague as possible, until they're mature enough as humans to start weening from their parents. Change the subject to fossils, age of the earth, age of species human? Talk about other belief systems, especially ones that are easy to see are just make-believe. In any case, saying anything to make the parents see you as a threat would most likely be inappropriate and counterproductive.
Thats a good simple way to put it. - be vague
and little bits at a time
All I told my children was that not everyone believes it and that other cultures have different rules. I encouraged them to be interested and I let them experience religion by sending them to a Catholic primary school. I think Americans call them Elementary school. I really sent them to that school because it was a good school but the extra religious education was an added bonus to me. They cant make decisions later on unless they experience it.
and while they were young I tried very hard not to give them my opinions because they grew to really enjoy their churchy school community.
I don't know that much about raising children (have none myself), but is this really that much different than the other awkward conversations parents have with their children? I mean, when some person or animal close to a child dies, that could be a difficult conversation to have, but the reality is, that being is dead and tears don't stop it. The major difference with an adult's faith dying is that it's easier to hide the stench and rigor mortis of a metaphorical corpse than it is a real one. I suppose you could tell the child your faith in Jesus was sent to live on a farm where it could roam the open fields and be happy.
Rip the band-aid off, and explain the the extent that child understands the terms involved (if it happens to be relevant or the child is curious). If a little scar is left behind, that's the mark of living, no?
In the case of the youtube video, I don't really know what to say. The child's concern for their parent going to Hell warrants sympathy, but that doesn't really explain why it's voiced as a temper tantrum. I would bet doughnuts to dollars that isn't exactly this child's first tantrum. I wasn't inclined (or permitted) to talk to my parents that way, so I don't really know what the deal is. I've never let kids talk to me that way either, but it's a different dynamic when it's not your child, I suppose.
I also do not have children and don't want them. But my parents had my sister when i was 14 ( they said it was an accident. I personally suspect it was to punish me) and so i ended up as the unpaid baby sitter more often than i would have liked(ie not at all). When she got older she did go through a stage of temper tantrums that i found an effective way to deal with. Instead of getting flustered or bothered by it i would smile and tell her she was not doing it right. I would tell her during a tantrum that if she was going to throw a tantrum she needed to do it right and thrash around more or hold her breath until she turned blue, or laughingly ask if she wanted me to show her how to do it properly. She quickly figured out that tantrums did not get the reaction from me that she wanted and so stopped throwing tantrums at me altogether.
No, I think you're spot on, although parents too often assume the kid should be able to assume conscious control over their outburst. I think the outburst still originates at an emotional, subconscious level, which can be difficult to fathom with reason. Usually, all I could do was try not to react to it negatively, keep setting the positive response example, and talk to them later (with empathy) when reason and clear thinking was possible.