My Kids Say They Don’t Believe in God. Now What?

Connected Families Q&ARecently we received this question from a parent:

Q: How should we respond to our children (middle school, high school and college) who insist there is no God?

My first impulse in responding to people who “insist there is no God” is to show them how wrong they are to hold that belief. I mean, look around, right? It takes a lot of faith to believe everything came from nothing. But “people” denying God’s existence is much different than MY KIDS denying that God exists and turning from their (our) faith. That creates sleepless nights, desperate pleas and crying out to God. It also tends to lead parents into anxious lobbying for their point of view when in fact, there is probably very little new that parents can say.

Aside from the conventional wisdom about this (which we fully embrace) to pray, to speak truth, and to love them, here are some less common ideas that have been shown to have powerful influence with children over time.

1. Empathize.

Empathy is often a parent’s most powerful portal to influence. Even if you’ve not fully abandoned faith, almost every parent has had questions and doubts. Most parents still do. Being authentic about this lowers any perceived barriers between parent and child. It can open the door to candid conversation and questioning when kids may otherwise be accustomed to sermonizing.

2. Ask truly curious questions.

Develop a sense of curiosity about their current view of faith. Ask questions, but don’t be critical. Avoid “Why” questions. Romans 2:4b says, “…that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance.” Some questions to consider:

  • What brought you to question your faith?
  • What about faith has repelled you?
  • What is your idea of the “perfect” religion?

You may just find that you and your child have a lot in common regarding the answers. Give your energy to validating their answers, not to “setting them straight.”

3. Keep the posture of an ally not an adversary.

“I believe in you,” “I love you no matter what you believe,” or, “I’m for you,” are messages every human longs to experience. Research has shown that when parents give their kids room to spiritually “experiment,” those kids are far more inclined to embrace their parents’ faith some day than those kids whose parents become forceful about religious belief and behavior.

4. Invite them to grade you.

At the end of the day what matters at least as much as what you do is what your kids’ perception of it is. So ask them, “On a scale of 0 to 10 where zero is not at all accepting of you and 10 is fully accepting even though we disagree about some things, what number would you give me?” Be prepared for an unexpected answer. Be prepared to keep your defenses down. If you can ask this question in a manner that conveys you are truly interested in your child’s answer, and then carry on a light conversation in the face of disagreement, you will earn the respect of both you and your faith. Only when this respect is earned will kids feel an open invitation to return to faith.

5. Pray.

We add this to assure, even though it is common advice, to not minimize the power of prayer to shape both you and your child in ways that bring God’s grace and truth to life. Some will even add spiritual fasting to the prayer strategy. In the end, your children’s faith is about God’s work in them, not about anyone convincing or controlling them. Pray that God would move powerfully in their lives to make his presence known.

children dont believe god doubt pin

© 2015 “PictureYouth”, Flickr | CC-BY-ND | via Wylio


One Mom’s Journey from Fighting to Dancing

tired child doing homework

© 2008 anthony kelly, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

Julia was fed up. Her kids fought daily about their responsibilities, and Julia was at the end of her patience. Daily power struggles were beginning to define their relationships as the kids grew more discouraged and Julia more determined to stop the “misbehavior.” So Julia came to us for help.

As we sat and talked, it was clear from Julia’s description of her children’s behavior that there was more going on than mere misbehavior. We discussed how kids’ “misbehavior” is often just the tip of the iceberg of hunger, discouragement, anxiety, or tiredness. Julia went away from her session with a resolve to better understand both her challenging son Josh and her daughter Ashley, and help them better understand themselves. She wrote this report in preparation for our next session:

Practical Ways to Connect in the Middle of Discipline [video]

Parents often think about how to connect with their children — but what we don’t always realize is that parents can connect even when children are misbehaving!

(In fact, sometimes the middle of misbehavior is the most powerful time to connect.)

If you haven’t already, check out our recent piece about the importance and power of empathy when kids misbehave. Then, add to your list of practical ways to connect with this short video that gives more examples of how to make sure kids know, “You are loved no matter what!” even when they misbehave.

Don’t stuff your kids’ feelings

emotional intelligence sad child

© 2009 tamckile, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

Kids usually do the best they know how to express their feelings. The best they can do is usually quite immature and unrefined. A problem occurs when, instead of validating our kids’ feelings when they do the best they can to express them and helping them learn to give feelings appropriate words, we minimize, invalidate, or even punish their expression.

Invest in families: Sponsor a Parenting Tip!

Connected Families sponsor a parenting tip

Each week we hear stories of amazing life change from the thousands of people all over the world who read our parenting tips. It is an honor and a privilege to speak into the lives of so many. Here’s an example of feedback we receive:

“It is absolutely amazing that something electronic could minister so deeply to me! Truly a gift from God.” – Shannon

Whose Problem Is It?

whose problem messy hair girl

© 2009 anthony kelly, Flickr

Deep inside most parents is a strong urge to control their children. It may seem beneficial or even “work” for a few years, but there are diminishing returns if the goal of control is not given up significantly by the teen years (probably earlier than that).

When we take control of our kids’ lives we often end up making decisions for them that they are capable of making on their own. But maybe even worse, when we take control away from our kids we deprive them of learning that they are capable of making choices and living with the consequences whether positive, negative, or neutral. When we micromanage our kids’ lives they learn that we are responsible for their life, not them.

The Importance of Asking Questions [video]

When we get into those familiar power-struggle patterns with our kids, it can seem like every mess, every chore, every bedtime is a battleground. And we can feel like oft-ignored commanders — trying in vain to “remind” our children back to the straight-and-narrow.

But these transitions and tasks don’t have to be battlefields.

Instead, turn your conflict into collaboration with one simple but powerful tool: questions.

Learning to ask questions in a helpful way is a process — as you think for yourself about how you might begin, check out this dad’s journey to start to ask questions that communicate messages of love, safety, and responsibility.

So — what’s your plan to ask your children more questions?

“How can I be loving and supportive when I think my spouse is wrong?”

Connected Families Q&ARecently we received this question from a mom in response to one of our posts.

Q: When I watched the video about Jim and daughter Bethany’s conflict I realized that Lynne answered the phone but didn’t intervene. My impulse would have been to tell my husband to calm down because I often feel the need to step in and “teach” my husband to be a better parent. So this raises the question for me, how can I be more loving and supportive spouse when I think my spouse is wrong?

Cast Your Vote for the Connected Families US Tour

united states map puzzle

© 2006 Tom, Flickr


For the past 13 years Jim and Lynne Jackson (and now their associate Chad Hayenga) have led workshops at hundreds of churches throughout the Twin Cities and upper Midwest. Through the power of technology, there are now people reading and applying Connected Families material throughout the United States – and even the world!

As we’re pulling together our workshop and speaking schedule for the Sept 2015 through May 2016 speaking season, we’re considering where else in the United States we might head for a short tour. To decide where in the U.S. we’ll tour, we want your input!