Talking to Children in Age Appropriate Ways

A common question for a non-Jewish parent is, “What about my holidays, like Christmas? What do I say to my kids when I don’t believe as a Jew? When is it age appropriate to teach them about my faith?”

I want to give you a shorthand way of determining what is “age appropriate.”

Much of learning takes place in the telling of stories. So while you may say to your child, “be fair,” “share with your sister,” “don’t lie,” these large concepts are not necessarily clear to a child. Take a look at children’s books. In books like, Bread and Jam for Frances, Mr. Putter and Tabby Pick the Pears, Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters, subtle concepts are taught through a story. In Bread and Jam, Frances learns that a limited diet gets to be dull. In Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters children learn that beauty is not as important as kindness. Some traditional lesson-giving tales are The Bundle of Sticks, The Boy Who Cried Wolf, The Ant and the Grasshopper. They have been told for centuries to teach about sticking together, lying, and the value of hard work.

If you are wondering, how can I talk about my faith tradition to a child at a particular age, look at children’s books for your child’s age. How are the lessons being taught? Is the language simple? Are there a lot of pictures? How sophisticated is the message? Aim to talk at that same level.

Then ask yourself, is my child asking about my faith tradition/heritage? Be ready to respond, but if they are not asking you can open the conversation by saying, “Joey, you know I am not Jewish; do you ever wonder what I did when I was your age?” If the answer is, no, then let it go. You can just say, “well, if you ever do, I can tell you about it.” It will only frustrate and upset you if you find yourself trying to force your child to be interested in your personal history. Let them come to you. If they are asking questions, they’ll be paying attention to your answers.

BUT, you should be prepared with a response that is at your child’s level. If you are unsure, call me and we can discuss how you can phrase your thoughts.

Remember, there is no rush. Your child will at some point want to know. Some kids don’t ask until they are in high school and sorting out who they are. Just be upbeat and available.

You can call me at 510-845-6420 x11.