“What happened to all the poop on the ark?” “Why are there so many cars over there?” “How many minutes until we are late?” “What do paramedics do?”
Every child goes through at least one persistent questions phase: where curiosity abounds and answers to questions are frequently met with more questions. Eventually the questions decrease in frequency for many kids—they start to make connections and assumptions about the world on their own. Within communities of faith, questions, assumptions, and doubt come up throughout child development, so whether you are talking about “doubting” Thomas and his struggle to believe, or exploring new stories and topics, questions should not only be expected, but invited.
Encouraging curiosity and creativity requires good grown-up responses to children’s questions. My favorite response when a child asks a question, whether it’s about the poop on the ark or if God is real, is to ask what they think. This works best when they are asking about something more abstract or where there isn’t a clear and concise answer. So, while responding to the question “How many disciples were there?” with “What do you think?” might not be particularly helpful, asking their opinion when they ask how Jesus showed up in the room with the disciples if the doors were locked helps them value their own ideas and invites them to think more deeply about stories in scripture.
Asking kids what they think and respecting their answers without telling them they’re wrong shows them that what they say and think matters and is important. Not only that, but kids also frequently have brilliant and creative ideas and insights. The theology that comes from children can challenge and inspire the whole community of faith.
Welcoming and respecting kids’ questions also creates a foundation of trust for them when they start to have doubts. During development, when moving from concrete to abstract thinking and from an insular worldview to one that recognizes other religions, other peoples, and other harm or oppression can prompt not only questions but also doubt from kids. They wonder how a God who they can’t see can still exist. They wonder how God can be good when somebody in the community is killed. They wonder who Jesus is when their Hindu neighbor shares about their faith. Wondering with them and affirming their validity is important. These doubts also come with emotions that can be hard for kids to name. Affirming that it’s scary or sad when someone dies, that it can be confusing when people believe different things, opens the space for them to share their feelings, to acknowledge what they struggle with and not feel like they have to hide or diminish it. This is one piece to nurturing the growth of kids to be their whole selves in church and throughout their whole lives.