For new, religious parents, the question of when it is the right time to introduce religion to your children can be a tricky one.

We know that education is, in Judaism as well as Christianity, the foundation stone upon which religion is built. When Judaism’s greatest leader, prophet and sage, Moses, was approaching the end of his long and distinguished life, he implored the Israelites to teach their children. In Deuteronomy 6:7 Moses said, “You shall teach these things repeatedly to your children, speaking of them when you sit in your house, when you walk on the way, when you lie down and when you rise up.”

In the Christian tradition too there is an innate understanding of the centrality of educating one’s children. As it says in Galatians 5:22, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness.” There is a clear imperative to acknowledge that the best way to get through to a child is by explaining, with love, why a religious life – accepting God’s will – is the path to a righteous life.

Through these teachings, we understand that religious education is very important. The subsequent question, of course, is when it is the right time to introduce children to religion. As in so much in life, timing is everything.

Although children can and do learn by osmosis to some extent, absorbing information like a sponge, parents have be careful to not try and teach their children about religion too early. A child would need to be able to have some understanding of what is being taught to them and be able to speak to encourage them to ask the questions they will inevitably have. Children are curious. They learn by asking questions and are bound to query why your family performs certain rituals or engages in particular practices. Judaism, for example, is a religion of doing, of performing religious tasks at particular times; some of these are daily, some weekly and some seasonally, related to the time of year that particular festivals fall. Encouraging a child to participate in a Passover seder for example is not only fun - there are tons of songs to learn, which is also a great way to help teach them - it extends the thousands of years of tradition that encompasses Judaism.

Introducing your children to religion is not a static thing, and it would be helpful to introduce them to ideas and concepts in an age-appropriate way. A good example of child-friendly resources can be found on the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews’ (IFCJ) website. One specific lesson for example, focuses on the patriarch Abraham, teaching how he was the father of faith.

On the other hand, teaching a child too late about religion could be similarly complicated. It is imperative to not only teach children about our own religions but also to give them a sense of how theirs is not the only religion. If this is done too late, children may begin to pick up bad habits in terms of thinking about their own religion and that of others in a negative way. We should be teaching our children as early as first grade, according to an article written in Time magazine in 2016. “In the first grade Core Knowledge curriculum, children receive lessons on Judaism, Christianity and Islam. They learn to identify different houses of worship like a church, mosque or synagogue. They cut out and color symbols for each faith, such as a Star of David for Judaism and a cross for Christianity. They learn, too, that Jesus is a Jew, a fact that sometimes helps prevent anti-Semitism. It’s teaching, not preaching.” By exposing children to information about religions early enough and with an open enough spirit you can help mold them to engage with your religion and others in a similar way.

In many ways, children will pick up their cues from you as a parent, especially their mothers. Teaching children is an organic process, which doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t sit them down and speak to them about issues - including religion - but they will learn by watching and copying you. If you attend synagogue or church and take your child to these places of worship from an early age, you will inculcate in them a love of religion and a desire to keep returning again and again.

Author's Bio: 

The International Fellowship of Christians and Jews is a non-profit organization founded in 1983 to promote understanding between Christians and Jews, and build support for Israel. Learn more about the IFCJ here:
The IFCJ was founded by Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, a leading advocate of religious freedom who has dedicated his work to building bridges of understanding between Christians and Jews. Learn more about Rabbi Eckstein here: