When Your Child Stops Believing

For most Catholic parents, nothing’s more important than raising our kids to be faithful, godly adults. 

Sadly, a study by CARA at Georgetown found that 89% of people who eventually left the Church said they’d actually lost their faith between the ages of 10 and 13. The good news is that there’s a lot you can do to help your kids negotiate their doubts.

When your child expresses doubts about God, begin by thanking them for trusting you, and telling them you’re proud of them.  Why?  Because doubts are a natural part of mature faith development.  

In fact, the reason so many kids lose their faith between 10 and 13 is that they’re transitioning from the “Story and Structure Stage” of faith–that focuses on learning rules, rituals, and stories–to the “Relationship and Mission Stage” where kids need to learn to apply their faith to real life problems.  

This transition comes with lots of questions.  Without patient guidance, kids can start thinking of faith as just a bunch of rules, rituals, and stories that have no real practical bearing on their world.

After you’ve diffused things, start asking questions. Don’t grill them.  Just explain that you’d like to understand what’s going on. In particular, ask if they’re having a hard time applying their faith to some challenge they’re facing.  Nine times out of 10, teens’ faith crises are either caused by difficulties with reconciling their faith with real-life problems, or being led to believe that their faith is an obstacle to having meaningful relationships and finding their place in the world.  

Of course, another reason kids have doubts about God is that they may have never actually MET him!  Going to church isn’t enough. Make sure that you’re praying daily as a family, and when you do, make sure you’re not just saying words at God, but actually modeling how to talk to him as the person who knows you best and loves you most. 

Finally, help your kids express their doubts directly to God. Teach them to pray, “Lord, I’m having a hard time believing in you. Please show me that you are real.”  

For more ideas on how to help your kids through faith struggles, check out Discovering God Together: The Catholic Guide to Raising Faithful Kids.

Bringing Small Children To Mass

We want our children to appreciate mass, but bringing kids 3 and under to church can seem like walking a tightrope without a net!  It’s easy to think, “What’s the point?.”

Even though small children’s brains haven’t developed enough to completely understand what’s going on, with a little help, they can still appreciate the beauty and the ritual of the mass. And you can help them participate in ways that can be very meaningful to them.

Remember, very small children are in the “Cuddly Stage” of faith development. They need to FEEL God’s love THROUGH you. Keep your little ones close.  Preferably on your lap or in your arms.  Give them lots of affection and quiet attention.

That might seem wrong at first. After all, aren’t you supposed to be paying attention to the mass? Of course! But with small children the goal is to point out the wonder of the smells, bells, sights, and sounds of the mass, and experience it all through their eyes. Let the loving attention you’re giving them remind you of God’s attentive love for you.

Help your little ones participate as best as they can. Teach them when it’s time to kneel, or stand, or bless themselves. At the time of the consecration, you might whisper, “Jesus is coming to show us how much he loves us. Can you say, “I love you, Jesus!’”  

Don’t force them to do these things, but gently encourage them at the right times. They’ll get it eventually. If they get antsy, just hold them close and focus on helping them experience God’s love through you. You might even pray, “Lord, help me show my child how much YOU love them. Hold ME in your arms and help me feel your love for me.”

Other things, like reading the gospel beforehand, and bringing a children’s bible or missal can really help little ones follow along.

You can also give them “special words” to look for throughout the mass like “glory” or “amen” or “and with your spirit.” Ask them to tap you when they hear the special word and reward them with a kiss and a cuddle.

These are just a few tips for bringing small children to mass. For more ideas, check out Discovering God Together: The Catholic Guide to Raising Faithful Kids.

Teaching Kids How To Talk To God

We all want to teach our children to develop their own faith identity and relationship with God, but how do we do it?

For kids to own their faith, the most important thing is to help them experience Jesus Christ in a meaningful, personal way.

The best way to do that is to teach them to talk to God just as they would talk to the person who knows them best and loves them most—because he does. While FORMAL prayer helps give kids a sense of belonging to God’s family, the Church, CONVERSATIONAL prayer helps kids realize that God is interested in having a more personal relationship with them as well.

The best way to encourage your kids to experience God this way is to model conversational prayer for them.  Let them hear you thanking God for little blessings throughout the day, asking for his help, praying—out loud—about your big and small decisions, and inviting him to be a part of your everyday life.

Of course it’s important to teach them how to do the same thing. When they tell you about something good that happens in their day, tell them how proud or happy you are first, but then say, “Let’s thank Jesus for that together.”  Then help them find the words to thank God, out loud, for that blessing.

If your kids are struggling or hurting—physically or emotionally—by all means attend to their boo-boo’s, or encourage them with whatever support you can give first, but then say, “Let’s ask God for his help with this.”  Then help them talk to God about their struggles the exact same way they would talk to anyone else they needed help from.

Show them how to relate to God as if he was right there next to you, listening, just waiting to be invited to be part of the conversation and to help in any way he can–because of course, he is!

To explore more ways to help your kids fall in love with God and their faith, check out Discovering God Together: The Catholic Guide to Raising Faithful Kids.