Q. We are a religious family, and my 10-year-old son has informed me he doesn't believe in God. How should I respond?
A. Don't panic, says Msgr. Thomas Costa of Our Lady of Mercy Catholic Church in Hicksville. It's normal for children to have questions or doubts, and it would be unusual for a child of 10 to make a lifelong decision about faith, he says.
Elicit from your child what led him to his feelings. At this age, he could be parroting a "cool" child at school who made such a proclamation, or he might have read in a magazine that an actor or musician he admires doesn't believe in God.
If he says something like, "Because there's so much suffering in the world," that's the problem of evil, Costa says. "Then, you have to talk about free will," Costa says. If you feel his questions are too complex for you, suggest you talk together with a member of your clergy who is in a teaching role.
Be prepared to offer your child examples of why you believe in God, or times you struggled but ultimately opted for faith, Costa says.
You should tell your child he must continue in his religious instruction because he doesn't yet have all the information he needs to make an informed decision, Costa says. Encourage him to keep an open mind. Say, "Listen to what they say, and we'll discuss it. We'll continue the conversation."