Since a few weeks my 2yo son refuses to pray for his food. His refusal probably has nothing to do with religion; being a 2yo he simply refuses to do anything we don't force him to. Nevertheless, this made us ask, should we force him to pray?

My wife and I are both Christian, so it would stand to reason that we'd raise our son to be Christian as well. However, I don't want to impair his ability to make religious decisions by forcing my views on him. On the other hand, I can't raise him to be an atheist; firstly because I don't hold those views, and also, because that would be no different from raising him to be a Christian.

What's a good way to balance personal religious views and freedom of choice for a child? Should we force him to pray for his food, or at nighttime? Should we pray for him when he's present? Should we take him to church, once he's old enough to stay at home?

P.S. I am aware religion is a very sensitive topic, with strong regional and cultural differences. Please be respectful and per the FAQ: don't provide generalized answers without the proper backing.

  • 8
    Comments Removed -- Please let's refrain from carrying on extended conversations in comments. Please feel free to use the chat room or other forum to conduct such discussions. Thanks. Commented Apr 27, 2011 at 3:55

17 Answers 17


I agree with Tim H insofar as requiring a child to pray when he is too young to have any idea what he's doing, besides folding his hands and repeating after you, is pointless. As to the second part of your question, how to raise a child without forcing your religious beliefs on him...

I come from a religion that specifically forbids one from proselytizing, even to one's own children. First of all, some pros and cons of this approach (all from my own observation -- to my knowledge not enough of us live under such strict rules about religious teaching to have any kind of study done):


  • Children who are raised in a One Right Way environment tend either not to question religious leaders, or to rebel against them, regardless of what beliefs and behaviors they espouse.

    The child who accepts the indoctrination tends not to see religious leaders as normal people, just as prone to human failings as the rest of us, but as superior, and are less likely than kids who chose their own path to question religious leaders, even when those leaders take action that blatently violates the religion they preach.

    For example, the Bible clearly references Mary breastfeeding the infant Jesus, however when I lived in central Texas some of the churches taught that breastfeeding was dirty and sinful. Even by pointing out relevant Gospel passages, the nurses in the NICU could not convince these young mothers, whose children were already off to a rough start and needed all the help they could get, to breast feed. The preacher said it was sexual abuse, so they would not do it.

    Some realize that they've been duped into not questioning anything and rebel against the religion, sometimes in antagonistic or self-destructive ways, because they don't know how to make another choice. Even when the religion might have been a positive influence in these kids' lives, they won't see it -- it's forever branded as oppressive in their minds.

  • Children who choose their own religious path gain a deeper understanding of whatever path they choose, rather than just learning enough to go through the motions.

  • Children who choose their own religious path tend to find it easier to understand and deal with people from other cultures. After you've gone through the normal adolescent journey of trying many paths to see what fits, it's kind of natural to take an anthropologist's views of faiths you don't share.


  • Of course, not indoctrinating your child from birth does teach them that religion is a choice. They may not choose your religion. They'll be especially skeptical of hypocrisy (a good thing in my opinion). This isn't to say that indoctrinating them necessarily works, but not doing so also sets up the expectation that you will love and accept them even if they choose another path.

  • Not indoctrinating all children will cause a religion not to become more widespread, at least not quickly. Being a minority means having less power in the face of the majority religions -- and being a majority usually involves not only proselytizing, but forced conversion and violence.

    I'd rather my child have to struggle a bit than to become one of the amoral bullies waging war for God(s), but if your particular faith is in danger of becoming a minority, you should be aware of the dangers. Most of my family was forcibly converted to Catholicism a couple of generations ago. In 2002, I had a Christian preacher try to beat me to a miscarriage after a neighbor found out my family wasn't Christian and "outed" us. The neighbor who saved me, by the way, was Christian, but he was baptized as an adult -- he was not indoctrinated in as a child.

Assuming that you are still committed to giving your child a choice, here's how we do it:

  • Rule #1 is: "Do not answer the unasked question." When a child (or an adult for that matter) needs something, he or she will seek it. Never lecture on religion, or subject your child to others doing so (e.g. church service or catechism). Live according to your beliefs, and answer questions when your child asks them, not before. This doesn't mean, of course, that your child shouldn't attend services or lectures if he/she has become curious and asked to do so on his/her own initiative.

    This teaches a number of important lessons:

    • that a religious path is valuable (think of how differently people view things that must be sought and/or earned vs. things forced on them)
    • that you will love your child regardless of what path he/she chooses
    • that religion is supposed to be a boon to man, not a burden. I believe that there is a Christian saying "The Sabbath was made for man, man was not made for the Sabbath." That's what I am talking about here: too often people do things they shouldn't in the name of religion. Teaching morals first and then allowing your child to come to religion on his/her own afterward helps your child resist the "God said so" line of reasoning when it comes to stuff like beating pregnant women and blowing up office buildings.
  • Expose your child to good people of different religions. Answer questions as honestly as you can, and let the people in your child's life know that you are fine with them explaining their beliefs as long as they don't descend into One Right Way-ism.

  • When you talk about religion, be it your own or someone else's, know what you are talking about, and make sure your child understands that the popular idea of a religion doesn't always resemble the truth. For example:

    • Some Christians believe that breastfeeding is sinful, however their own religious texts depict the son of God himself being breastfed as an infant.
    • Many people believe Satanists glorify immorality for its own sake. However, none of the most dominant Satanic sects in the US believe or behave this way. The one I am most familiar with simply tells the story of God and Satan differently: in their version, god created both Humans and Angels to be slaves. Satan saw that this was evil, and rebelled, granting humans free will so that they could choose to serve god or not. He (Satan) encourages humans to live moral lives, but to oppose rule from above (e.g. government power over individuals, organized religion).
    • Many people believe that pagans worship nature, however this is only true of a couple small sects. Many pagan paths have their own God(s), and still others do not include worship at all.
    • Many people believe that pagans worship Satan. However, the word "pagan" is from the Latin "pagani" (plural of "paganus") which literally means "country folk" or "rustic", but the connotation was derogatory, more like "redneck" or "hillbilly". When the Roman Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity and began persecuting members of older religions, everyone in Rome and other cities converted to Christianity. It made life a lot easier when you did as the emperor did. However, people in rural areas clung to the old religions. While people in the cities would talk about Christians and Jews as Christians and Jews, the social climate was more dismissive of other religions. Practitioners of non-Abrahamic religions were just referred to as "pagani" -- so by definition, to be pagan, one cannot believe in Satan, as he's part of the Abrahamic (Christian/Jewish/Muslim/Satanic) story line.

    Those are just a few examples, and might seem more apropos to a discussion about religious tolerance than one about finding one's own path, but the learning process of someone who has a choice of religion is a little different than someone who grows up to believe what they are taught they must believe. This is an important lesson, because it's the one that enables a child raised with religious choice to find direction:

    On the surface -- the level most unthinking practitioners never pass -- every religion is the same. There are holidays, an oral or written history, some prayers, chants, or songs, rules for behavior, and ritual. The important stuff is below the surface. So, if you don't know why you are "praying for food" don't do it. If it's a ritual that has some meaning within the context of a coherent belief system, then go ahead and do it. The important thing is that religious practice not be based on pop culture or "because $religious_leader said so" but that it enrich your lives in some way. Understanding the differences in how different paths see and interact with the world, and understanding how they came to be that way, is how one chooses.

Raising your child without enforcing your own religious views is certainly harder -- there are a lot more questions to answer, and in your case there would likely be some sort of fallout from members of your church, as all the Christian sects I'm aware of require that children be indoctrinated from birth, and some go so far as to prohibit investigation of other paths.

However, giving your child the choice of how he or she will come to see the world is incredibly rewarding. It means that he/she will never feel the need to choose between his/her religious calling and his/her relationship with you. Your child will not be easy prey for someone peddling religion in order to take money or control, or for a zealot who wants to use violence in the name of God(s). It also means that your child will learn what makes up belief systems so that, whether the context is morality, religion, business, politics, or anything else, your child can separate snake oil and self-serving hypocrisy from beliefs and models of behavior worthy of him/her.

  • 8
    I also would upvote it multiple times if I could. Thank you for such a well thought out answer. Commented May 27, 2011 at 13:24
  • 14
    This is actually a very well considered and thoughtful answer; as an atheist, the only thing I would add is mentioning that "no religion" is also a valid choice - i.e. in addition to exposing the child to people of religions, to introduce them to people who can talk sensibly about the non-religion option. Actively choosing a non-religious philosophy (such as Humanism, as just one example) can also very much be a boon (and liberation) to the individual. Commented Aug 1, 2011 at 9:53
  • 6
    @HedgeMage "I come from a religion that specifically forbids one from proselytizing, even to one's own children" - out of curiosity, do you mind if I ask what that religion/view/philosophy is? Your answers on many sites have been very insightful, and I take more than a passing interest in a great many religious/non-religious views. It is a personal question, I know, and I will take absolutely no offence if you choose not to reply. Good luck to you! Or if you are happy to reply but not on a public basis, I am easily contactable (profile). Commented Sep 3, 2011 at 10:48
  • 5
    /I come from a religion that specifically forbids one from proselytizing, even to one's own children./ may i know which religion forbids proseletyzing to ones own children Commented Mar 16, 2013 at 5:11
  • 4
    @MarcGravell et al.: I practice a form of family tradition paganism, meaning a non-Abrahamic religion passed down within a tribe. Most of my family converted, so I'm one of the last practitioners of this particular famtrad AFAIK. My best guess (from the limited, mostly oral history I have access to) is that the prohibition against proselytizing developed as an adaptation to living among hostile cultures. My ancestors were gypsies (NOT Roma, different tribe) and traveled for centuries among cultures with conflicting religions, most of whom didn't like outsiders much.
    – HedgeMage
    Commented Mar 19, 2014 at 14:54

I think the best approach is to lead by example.

Forcing a child to do something they don't want to, without making sure they understand why, runs the risk of fostering resentment.

If you and your wife consistently pray before meals, eventually he will start to feel left out and want to participate. Don't force him to pray, but tell him he has to wait until you are done before he can eat. Delay putting his meal in front of him if you have to. Once you think he is old enough, you can also offer to let him lead the prayer, if you are comfortable with that. This may help him feel like it is something he wants to do, because most children like the idea of helping and participating.

  • 2
    +1 for the terms "lead by example". This is sensible, and it works.
    – gd1
    Commented Apr 26, 2011 at 15:49
  • "eventually he will start to feel left out and want to participate." is this actually a thing? I can honestly say I've never seen this happen in any child once they've stopped doing something.
    – Weckar E.
    Commented Aug 10, 2017 at 10:17

I can tell you how, as an Atheist, I would raise my child. 2 years old is way too young to be able to make any reasonable decision about religion. When he got older or started asking questions, I'd start telling him about Christianity -- but not only Christianity. I think that it is of the utmost importance that religion be presented in whole. Christianity is not the only religion and certainly not the only religion that declares that it is the only true way.

Religion would be presented to the child and he would be allowed to make his own decision on it. This is similar to how I was raised. My family was entirely Christian, if not very devout. I was never made to go to church, and I didn't go to church for the first time until I asked to do so at around age 12. I spent time there for about 2 years before deciding against Christianity.

The hardest part is being able to accept that your child will have a choice and may not make the same choice as you. It's not necessarily a terrible thing, and if you have trouble with that know you aren't the only one. It's only human nature.

All in all, just make sure the child knows that he has a choice. Teach him about Christianity? Absolutely, but teach him about other religions as well. Don't teach him about them from a Christian perspective though. Use sources like wikipedia for your information and not members of your church. One day, your child will thank you because a lot of children don't get such privileges from their parents, and are forced into the religion of their parents from the beginning. For now, he is only 2 years old! There is plenty of time for religion and stuff. He doesn't even understand what religion is. He isn't capable of processing such information. Even if he did pray, he wouldn't know what he is doing.

  • Or do use members from your church, but also include members from a nearby mosque and a synagogue. Whatever you do, be consistent.
    – Mast
    Commented Feb 18, 2015 at 7:05

As a freethinker I can see the relevance of your question, and I applaud you for raising the topic and asking the question.

Firstly I would like to comment that I can not see the sense of forcing your child to pray when he is in no way capable yet of understanding the meaning of this ritual. The only way I see you can convey to your child the importance you find in prayer is by providing the example.

The second, more general part of your question: "What's a good way to balance personal religious views and freedom of choice for a child?" I think it is practically impossible to raise a child without (partly) imposing your own religious views on him. But what you can do is to try to expose your child to as many different opinions and views possible. Of course this is a delicate process, because as a parent it can be extremely difficult not to be opinionated or prejudiced about what others think when they think things you do not. It takes effort but it will teach your child how to respectfully deal with other opinions and it will show him how you will react when he will have opinions that differ from yours.

Lastly, if you really want to respect the freedom of choice of your child, the most important thing is to convey the message that he is free to form his own opinion and to make it clear to him that altough you will not share his views when they differ from your own, you will love and respect him all the same.

  • 10
    -1 for suggesting having a conversation about freedom of opinion with a 2yo; I believe this is way too premature for that discussion.
    – J.J.
    Commented Apr 26, 2011 at 13:35
  • 4
    Ok, granted. I took the second part of his question to be a more general question about parenting, also including older age groups. On the other hand, I'm not sure if this isn't something that can come up at a relative young age. I can imagine a 4y old child asking about mothersof classmates with a headscarf. The way you handle these sorts of questions as a parent can form the way your child experiences its religious freedom, which is at the heart of the question.
    – Tim H
    Commented Apr 26, 2011 at 14:00

As others have said, I'd discourage forcing him to pray. First, it sets the wrong message and could lead to resentment of the religion, since that is an easier view to hold in a child's brain than resentment of the parent. Second, requiring someone to pray (or not to pray) before a meal is not a very accurate model of how the world works. There will be times in his life when he dines with people who do pray and other times when he dines with those who do not. He should learn that when dining with those who pray it is polite to sit quietly and wait until they are done before beginning your meal. Conversely, if you pray before meals but are dining with those who do not, it is polite to bow your head and quietly say your prayer and do so expediently without drawing attention to yourself or making others feel uncomfortable for not partaking in your practice.

I think the better way to word this question is, "How can we encourage our child to pray before meals, at nighttime, etc.?" Some thoughts that come immediately to mind are:

  • Lead by example. If your son sees you and your wife praying before every meal and before going to bed and before putting him to bed he will likely start to follow suit. Humans are social animals and young children are adept at observing and mimicking the behavior of siblings and their caregivers.
  • Make praying a more social/family-focused event. I don't know how your family prays before meals, but when I was growing up my family would pray but it would involve everyone holding hands. My parents didn't force us kids to say the prayer, but we were expected to hold hands with those next to us and that was a pre-condition to eating (just like waiting until everyone is seated and ready is a pre-condition to eating in polite company).
  • Give your son greater opportunity to participate. Could you let your son lead the family in prayer one or two nights a week? I know he's only 2 at this time so this may not be too feasible, but would become more of an option in the years ahead. For the nighttime prayer, maybe this could involve talking a bit about his day with him in hushed tones as you kneel next to the bed. Ask him what he did and what he enjoyed best about his day and then focus on giving thanks to Jesus or God (or however your family prays) for the happy day and for the blessing to get to enjoy it with friends and family, etc., etc.

Regarding Church, I don't think it's impractical to require your son to attend, presuming we're talking about one or two days a week for a couple hours at a time. Moreover, it's not too much to expect that during that time he'll behave and be respectful of others. A young child does not want to go to Church because he'd rather sleep in or play outside or whatnot. But when he ages, his reasons for not wanting to go to Church may become more adult - there may be social issues with his peers at Church, or he may have trouble with some of the religious beliefs being taught. In any event, I think that as a child ages and enters puberty one can still expect him to attend services, but that there would need to be open communication between you and him and that you'd need to make him feel validated and respected in his views, even if they differ from yours.


If my child didn't want to thank his invisible, non-existent friend for food said non-existent invisible friend didn't supply, I would be rewarding him/her for their intellectual prowess at working this out inside 2 years and not wasting any more time on the matter.

That aside, I don't believe anyone should force any child to do anything they don't wish to. If you start forcing the child to pray, they may link this to food itself and pick up food issues. My wife is religious, I am not. My father-in-law is actually a Canon. One child wishes to pray, one child doesn't. As far as that goes, I am cool with both ideas. The moment you start forcing kids to do anything, IMO, is the moment you are introducing them to issues.

So whilst I should apologise for the jibe at the top of my reply, I don't believe in indoctrination. He is 2 years old, as long as he is eating you should be happy. Once he understands what faith is, maybe take it form there; all you are doing is getting him/her to form a habit, not linked to faith, but to food.

  • 7
    Would you also not force your child to brush his teeth, or wash his hands after using the bathroom, if he doesn't want to? Commented Apr 27, 2011 at 13:19
  • 2
    I don't see the link, unfortnately. I am not forcing them to pray before they brush their teeth.
    – Hairy
    Commented Apr 27, 2011 at 13:21
  • 2
    Teaching a kid to brush their teeth as part of a going to bed routine, is not linking their tooth brushing to praying to god. Nor is washing their hands. Anyone can see, rationally, that there is a huge difference between the two.
    – Hairy
    Commented Apr 27, 2011 at 13:23
  • 3
    Sorry, I didn't mean to link it to religion, and I agree with your reply. I was simply responding on I don't believe anyone should force any child to do anything, they don't wish to. I should have included that quote. Commented Apr 27, 2011 at 13:25
  • 3
    @Hairy .. for some things, absolute, unquestioning compliance is necessary. No stepping off the sidewalk. No wandering away from Dad in the store. Personal hygiene is required. Negotiating/persuading for these kinds of things is the wrong approach. Not being diligent and disciplined in making these things happen is lazy, ineffectual parenting. The trick is deciding what things to force and what to not force. Force personal hygiene. Force common courtesy and treating others with respect. Don't try to force feelings, or likes, or beliefs.
    – tomjedrz
    Commented Jun 14, 2011 at 6:16

Distill the problem down to its essence: You wish to instill your values into your child. (Actually, other than keeping them alive, this is the fundamental problem of parenting.)

Now you must determine what those values are. Are your values praying before a meal? Or is it a meaningful Christian experience, which includes the doctrine of forgiveness of sin and grace through Jesus Christ?

Praying at that age is nothing more than a ritual. What you need to concentrate on is the concept of "communication with God". Don't formalize or ritualize it.

Also, I would suggest staying away from the "sinful nature of man" doctrine until he is much older. (i.e. Reached the biblical "age of understanding")

Also, the difference between God and the Tooth Fairy is not understandable at this age.


Maybe see why he refuses, although at 2 I doubt you'd get a rational answer. I believe in giving my kids freedom to choose, though mine are Buddhist due to my wife's beliefs. We do say a prayer before eating but its not forced. My view is if the kids see what we do, and they like it, they will follow. Add some stories about Jesus and Biblical tales to give them some background and instruction, we do the same with Buddhist stories and my son likes some of them.

At this age he is probably just trying to assert himself and this is one way to do it, if you raise him in the atmosphere that promotes what you like, and show your love they will either follow you or find their own path.


As a Christian I think it's fairly clear both from church doctrine (of all the churches I've been a part of) and from the Biblethat we are supposed to "indoctrinate" our children.

Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them.

  • Deuteronomy 4:9

If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.

  • Matthew 18:6

And many many, more. A quick search reveals that this is a pretty important subject actually.

As for how? I think we do it largely by presenting ourselves as Christian role models, and by talking about spiritual things with them on a regular basis.

Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.

  • Deuteronomy 11:19

As a practical matter, forcing a two year old to pray won't gain you anything. Rather model that behavior yourself, and invite him to join in.

When he's a little older you'll want to explain why praying matters, and make a habit of talking about your beliefs with them.

  • Unless those first two quotes are out of context, neither really seem to be instructing parents to "indoctrinate" their children. The first quote seems to be about passing on your life experiences in general, and not specifically "tell your children they have to actively embrace your religion before they even understand the significance of it". The second one specifically refers to people who are already believers. The rest about being role models I agree with, but the beginning seems to be your personal spin.
    – user420
    Commented Apr 28, 2011 at 13:47
  • 1
    @Beofett The first quote is preceded by "What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the LORD our God is near us whenever we pray to him? And what other nation is so great as to have such righteous decrees and laws as this body of laws I am setting before you today?" I don't think I'm misinterpreting that at all.
    – C. Ross
    Commented Apr 28, 2011 at 14:48
  • And thus my qualifier about context. However, the key point is "interpretation", which validates my position. It is your interpretation that preceding that statement with comments about the nearness of god and the relative righteousness of christian laws transforms the statement "don't forget the things your eyes have seen" into "when I say 'don't forget the things your eyes have seen, I specifically mean the laws I am setting before you today'". It is a subjective interpretation, like so much else in the bible, and you saying "it clearly states" is still spin.
    – user420
    Commented Apr 28, 2011 at 14:58
  • quoting the bible is fine for opening up discussions but never useful for providing specific answers.
    – DA01
    Commented Jun 13, 2011 at 15:36
  • 1
    @DA01 The way I read it, the actual answer is in the last 2 paragraphs. The part before can be considered preamble if you will; it might not be an answer per se but the author felt it was relevant to include. Commented Jun 14, 2011 at 6:56

Sorry for being so synthetic, but I think when it comes to give some "spiritual" education, you should just "open the door, and show". Never force. Just grow him giving good advice, respect towards the others and himself, teaching him how to develop, on his own, a sort of identity that includes, but it's not limited to, religious and spiritual feelings.

He'll be smart enough to find something that fits his spiritual needs. Sometimes, to make things go the right way (in this case, having a sensible and careful son that grew up like you meant to), the key is not to think too much, and just avoid giving bad advice (that will develop bad habits). And everything will turn good.

I end quoting Beofet's answer:

If you and your wife consistently pray before meals, eventually he will start to feel left out and want to participate.


What we tend to do is say a very simple "Thanks, God" - often no more than those two words - before we eat, as well as praying with/over our kids when we put them to bed. We encourage them to join in or say "Amen" at the end, but don't make a fuss if they don't do it.

By not making a big deal out of it our children can't use refusal to pray as a way of misbehaving, so there's no us versus them stand-off around praying. Yet by continuing to pray briefly in front of them and inviting them to join in, prayer is an accepted part of their lives. As they grow older we're encouraging them to say more when praying, but the other respondents are correct when they say that two years old is too young for a child to understand what prayer is.


Before this question can be properly addressed, we need to know the answer to a question:

  • Do you, on the one hand, think religion is a stylistic/personal preference decision like favorite sports team or preferring domestic vs. imported cars? Do you believe that inquiry into truth won't lead you to any particular place?

  • Or, on the other hand, do you believe that you simply know the truth, and while everyone else calls those beliefs "religion" because of their content, it's not really a religion to you. Do you believe that honest inquiry will invariably lead to the important parts of what you believe?

(Note: I don't really think there's another option. If you don't believe your religion, how can it be your religion? And if honest inquiry won't lead to your religion, then why do you believe it?)

I suggest that if it's the former, you go with Rayne, MichaelF, or Hairy's replies.

If it's the latter, then act as though what you believe is true and treat it like every other thing you want to teach your child in life. Would you like your child to understand physics some day and be able to do advanced calculus? Yes, but you don't force him to recite equations or study graphs at 4 years old. Do you want him to understand sex and have a healthy relationship with it? Yes but you don't sit him down with graphic pictures and explain every detail or give him a demonstration. Instead, you wait until the time is right and you tell him what he is ready for at his level in terms that he can understand.

If you think that what you believe is the truth, then you're going to also think that honest inquiry into its validity is only going to confirm it. Thus you are not threatened by your child being exposed to other ideas. You should be interested in him being used to hearing all kinds of ideas and beginning to learn critical thinking skills.

I think the best antidote to error and to ensure "correct doctrine" is not restricting what one hears but hearing as much as possible, while having the correct tools to evaluate each new thing.

That's what we do in science, and that's what I think we should do with our religion. It's no threat to me to tell my son that some people believe the Earth is flat (I don't know if any do, it's just an example). Then we simply set about to figure out how we might determine the truth of that. It might be a long exploration before the final aha! moment, even years.

Putting blinders on and throwing him forcefully at your beliefs as if they were the only possible ones is not going to do the job properly, because some day your child will be out on his own. If he only believes what you teach him because his mind has been bent to avoid even considering anything else, he'll either never be a genuine follower because it's not his own (and isn't that what you want?) or he'll some day figure out how he was duped—whether or not the basic tenets of your religion are correct—and may reject it all simply for having been brainwashed.

Make your religion part of the fabric of your life. Live it unashamedly, but not ostentatiously. Tell him what you believe, but prepare him to ask questions, to think, to learn how to sit with uncertainty without it being intolerable, as long as he is not content to remain there forever. Create an environment of free inquiry, but lead at the same time. Note this is not the same as telling him he has to come to his own decision—of course he does. But that kind of communication almost puts it back in the Ford vs. Honda category. Instead he should just be free to explore, knowing what you believe and being taught how to question everything and arrive at conclusions himself. Trust the process. Act as though believing anything else doesn't make sense. Because that's what you believe. Right? Right?

If that's not right, then you do have no business teaching him your religion.

And no, I don't think you should force him to pray. Does anything in your religion say that praying at meals is required for salvation, or something? Then honestly, what a misguided and ludicrous idea. It's a tradition of yours that you hope he will follow. But isn't the real issue one of gratitude for and dependence on the provision of God? Do you think he'll learn those by being forced to pray? Does he even comprehend lack well enough to appreciate provision, even your own provision? My 5-year-old doesn't.

I guess a second "real issue" you might be interested in is teaching the discipline of prayer. But prayer is a communication vehicle for those in relationship with God. Does your son have such a relationship? Does he even begin to grasp who God is and what He's like? If your son had a Great Aunt that you forced him to write letters to because you hope him to have a wonderful relationship with her some day, but he's never met her nor received any communication from her at all, is that really the best way to foster the relationship you're hoping will develop?


Go ahead and raise your child in your belief system, what ever that may be. But, make sure that as they get older they know that they are free to explore other religions as well. Talk about the differences between them with as open a mind as you can. As they get older they will form their own views and opinions, but having the knowledge and background of an organized religion will give them a base to start from.

The fact that you are even asking this question tells me that you will be able to handle this just fine. Teaching your child to pray at a young age is a good skill regardless of where they end up spiritually in their lives. Most religions have some form of prayer and if nothing else learning to spend a few moments each day being thankful for what you have is a good thing.

You are helping your child build a foundation for who they will become as they grow.

  • -1 Answers that just repeat what others have said are not helpful.
    – HedgeMage
    Commented Apr 26, 2011 at 18:19
  • 1
    Compensated the downvote, because I think that the evaluation of one's answer does not depend on the other ones, and an useless answer for me is 0, not -1.
    – gd1
    Commented Apr 26, 2011 at 19:06
  • 1
    @HedgeMage I am sorry you feel that this is a repeat of prior answers. This topic is open to each persons views of it and minor differences in wording can be a big change in meaning. I agree that much of what I said could be a repeat of what others had posted prior. But, I did not feel that what I was trying to say was truly represented in the other responses. I do not post if what I have to say has already been said. Commented Apr 26, 2011 at 21:34
  • P: that sort of tweak is usually better served by a comment/edit on an existing answer :)
    – HedgeMage
    Commented Apr 26, 2011 at 21:46
  • if nothing else, this made it all worth it: if nothing else learning to spend a few moments each day being thankful for what you have is a good thing! And I'm an atheist :) Commented Nov 2, 2012 at 3:22

I disagree that raising your child to be an Atheist would be no different from raising him to be Christian. You should remain as neutral as possible. It just happens that Atheism is about as neutral as it gets (literally a lack of faith, but not the deniance of faith).

Don't force him to pray. It would be fruitless, as he would just grow to dislike prayer. To him, it's a meaningless activity, so he wouldn't learn anything, anyway.

Sooner or later, he will follow your example.

  • I'm not sure this answer is relevant to a 2-year old.
    – Erik
    Commented Sep 11, 2015 at 16:26

"don't provide generalized answers without the proper backing"

Huh? We're talking about religion here.

You're either religious, or you are not. If you are not, this is a non-issue.

If you are, then the issue is entirely personal. If you want your kid to obey your particular religious beliefs, then you're doing to teach your kid said religious beliefs. If you want your kid to develop his or her own, then you're not going to want to force any of your particular beliefs on your child, though you may very well want to share them.

So there is no right/wrong answer to this. Kids don't 'get' religion as much as they learn whatever their parents preach.

My wife is somewhat religious, so takes the kids to church. I am not, and am honest with them when they ask questions regarding religion, usually along the lines of answering with a "well, some people believe that, some don't".

I have a personal opinion that religion is usually not a healthy thing to push on folks, but that's just my personal opinion.

I say take religion completely out of the question and ask "how to I get my kid to do something I want them to do but that they don't want to?"

  • "So there is no right/wrong answer to this. Kids don't 'get' religion as much as they learn whatever their parents preach." I think it's a little disingenuous to imply that kids basically only parrot what their parents preach. Some children are spiritual even without parental guidance, or despite it. Commented Jun 30, 2011 at 4:08
  • Spirituality, IMHO, is not a synonym with adhering to a particular organized religion. So, yes, I imagine there are some kids who make up their own spiritual beliefs. But in terms of belonging to an organized religion, the odds are the child being of the same religion as the parent are extremely high.
    – DA01
    Commented Jun 30, 2011 at 13:45

A leader in my church, in a recent address, said the following:

I have heard a few parents state that they don’t want to impose the gospel on their children but want them to make up their own minds about what they will believe and follow. They think that in this way they are allowing children to exercise their agency. What they forget is that the intelligent use of agency requires knowledge of the truth, of things as they really are (see D&C 93:24). Without that, young people can hardly be expected to understand and evaluate the alternatives that come before them. Parents should consider how the adversary approaches their children. He and his followers are not promoting objectivity but are vigorous, multimedia advocates of sin and selfishness.

Seeking to be neutral about the gospel is, in reality, to reject the existence of God and His authority. We must, rather, acknowledge Him and His omniscience if we want our children to see life’s choices clearly and be able to think for themselves. They should not have to learn by sad experience that “wickedness never was happiness” (Alma 41:10).

You may enjoy the whole talk: "Moral Discipline" by D. Todd Christofferson Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, speech given during the October 2009 General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

  • 6
    -1 for religious propaganda on a question that's about avoiding religious propaganda.
    – Koert
    Commented Apr 28, 2011 at 11:02
  • @Koert - Agreed. -1.
    – user420
    Commented Apr 28, 2011 at 13:42
  • Agreed -1, works only if you are a Christian.
    – MichaelF
    Commented Apr 28, 2011 at 15:32
  • 1
    Did the question not ask for insight on how to balance letting a child make up his/her own mind, or raising them in your own faith? I feel that this answer addresses exactly that, which, certainly, applies best if you are a Christian, but Koert, the person asking the question indicated as much. The answer provides a very specific opinion with a reference, as requested in the FAQ. Granted, Koert indicated a need to be respectful of different points of views, and I do not feel that this is disrespectful; as I found it inspiring, I thought it was worth sharing. I am sorry you disagree. Commented Apr 28, 2011 at 15:57
  • 2
    @MichaelF - I wouldn't even agree that it works for all Christians; only those who happen to agree with that particular perspective. @Clinton - the question does ask for insight into how to balance those. Your answer, however, seems to be saying "don't balance it. Kids can't make intelligent decisions about what they should believe until after you tell them what they should believe." It falls into the Q: "how do I do x?" A: "my personal feelings is you are wrong if you decide to do x" trap, and is therefore not constructive.
    – user420
    Commented Apr 28, 2011 at 17:22

I'm concerned. You toss your religious views around like its nothing, like it doesn't matter what your child grows up to know. This leads me to believe that you're a Christian by way of asking Jesus into your heart. This makes a lot of since, seeing as your not ultimately concerned about what your child believes.

The first thing that you need to do is get your beliefs correct. Asking Jesus into your heart is not biblical, its a heresy that's plaguing the church. Watch this video, Paul washer is on fire about this topic http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3wX_BPopbKI&feature=BFa&list=PL312D357DCA76DAF0&index=24

When it comes to your child, lead by example. Repeat the lords prayer when you pray in front of your child, at dinner and beside their bed at night. But do not force them to participate, just force them to be respectful while you pray.

Read children's bible stories from time to time as well.

  • 1
    I'd upvote for the key idea to teach them to respect you while you pray. But the first part of the answer sounds a bit to much like preaching for my taste, so I'll just refrain from voting. Commented May 26, 2011 at 8:12
  • 1
    -1 for assuming there is a singular and correct definition of 'Christian'. +1 for suggesting that a parent should lead by example.
    – DA01
    Commented Jun 13, 2011 at 15:35
  • 4
    -1 for calling the OP a heretic. This is not the format to "correct" someone's beliefs.
    – user420
    Commented Jun 13, 2011 at 15:54
  • 1
    The OP asked a question but you felt that you needed to berate them for their beliefs. It does not matter that they are the same or different denomination of Christian, or Jewish, or Muslim, this is a forum for people of all religious backgrounds. Poor taste!
    – kleineg
    Commented Jun 17, 2014 at 17:32

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .