Exposing Your Child to Religion

My daughter is our only child and she’s only three, so we’re definitely learning as we go. In many ways, my daughter’s childhood is already very different from mine which makes me feel like I have even less direction. I spend a lot of nights worrying about what’s to come.

Reasonably Protected vs. Overly Sheltered

I’m very careful with my daughter when it comes to religion. I just don’t want her around it because I know religions prey on the young.

However, I also don’t want my daughter to grow up ignorant and afraid. I want her to at least know what religion is.

How do I balance between protecting her and adequately exposing her to the world around her?

I would like to think that young people are less religious than my generation and my parent’s generation, so maybe this won’t come up, but what if my daughter’s friends from school go to church and she wants to go with them? Peer pressure is a powerful thing. I want to say no but I also don’t want people to think I’m an asshole.

For the most part, I enthusiastically celebrate diversity, but I feel religious beliefs are one area of a person’s life that we can unapologetically judge. You can’t judge someone based on their skin color or sexual orientation because those are things you are born with. They are not a choice. However, religion is a choice and we criticize bad choices all the time.

However, I really do want my daughter to see and experience the world around her. I want her to have knowledge of different religions and cultures. I don’t want her to be afraid of those who are different from her.

When to Let Go

I suppose frank and open discussions with my daughter throughout her childhood are necessary to tackle this issue.

At what point do a child’s own skepticism and common sense kick in? When is it appropriate to let them explore on their own?


I would love to hear from other atheist parents. How much do you expose your child to religion?


  1. anat says

    Hello Megan!

    My husband and I are atheist parents in the Pacific Northwest. I was born in Israel, my husband in Argentina. We have been living here since our son was about 2.5 years old, far from family on either side. When our son was young we left religion out, though we did celebrate secular versions of holidays to mark the changing seasons. We did have a few unexpected encounters with religion in the surrounding environment.
    For example:
    – Our son (age about 4 at the time) was playing at some playground when he suddenly came running to us with a question: “This girl wants to know what religion we are. What is my religion?” (We decided on the spot that the best answer would be that we were free thinkers.)
    – When my son was in 1st grade a kid at the school bus stop was bothered by the fact that my son said he did not go to church. She said he should, this got him upset. Afterwards he explained that the girl said he had to go to church, like it was a rule, and that way of phrasing it was the cause of his reaction.
    – In kindergarten they learned a song that made a jokey reference to dying and going to heaven
    – At some point in elementary school (maybe around grade 2-3?) my son learned from his classmates “If I don’t have spirit in my heart, how am I going to have a life in the sky after I die?”

    Around 2nd grade my son borrowed several picture books at the library that contained Biblical stories. He treated them as stories like any other.
    I don’t remember at what age, probably around 2nd-3rd grade I introduced my son to the concept that many people believe in one or more god(s)/ess(es), but we didn’t. Through books and online resources we introduced him to the concept of skepticism (playing conjuring tricks also helped), and to secular morality.

  2. Katydid says

    You’re asking some great questions! I raised an Atheist child now in his 20s, so I had the exact same thoughts and fears you do. Your situation depends on how religious the community is around you, of course, but I taught my child the phrase that worked for us and I’d like to share with you, “Religion is a very personal topic and I don’t want to discuss it with you.” Keep your chin up and expect stupidity. My child was told on the first day of school that the whole family was going to hell because we didn’t go to the other chil’ church. I notified the teacher, who thought it was funny, so I notified the principal, who shrugged it off with, “Well, maybe you should switch churches.” KNOW YOUR RIGHTS and don’t be afraid to voice them.

  3. TGAP Dad says

    Merry xmas eve eve, as we say in my house. I can totally empathize with your situation, as my wife and I both wrestled with that same issue when our three were young(er). My wife was raised catholic, by a devout father and not-quite-as-devout mother, the middle child of NINE. Whereas I was raised by secular parents – one first-generation atheist, and my father. (My father’s childhood religiosity was a mix of divorced parents, half-siblings and cousins, prison [not Dad, though]… so it wasn’t really a part of his life.) Another aspect of our lives was the neighborhood and school we chose was the most diverse in our city, with over 80 countries represented by children at the elementary school, with a broad spectrum of religiosity. In fact, there was no religious, ethnic, racial, or national group with a majority in school; they were ALL minorities, in a sense. In the end, we decided to let them discover on their own, as they would certainly be exposed to my in-laws catholic views, as well as their classmates’ perspectives. In the end, our kids all remained secular. There were a few interesting observations, though…
    – Our oldest (daughter) came to us once and mentioned a wild story she heard from a friend (Noah and the ark). She felt a little uninformed, having never had this allegory told and reinforced to her.
    – All our kids express bewilderment at the gullibility of the masses regarding religious belief. C’est la Vie.
    – Having been raised in a 100% tolerant household, the 2 older ones (daughter and son) were taken aback upon encountering bigotry after striking out on their own for college. They also found that puzzling, and alarming.

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