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Keeping kids from losing religion

Sooner or later, it happens: Your child starts questioning your religious beliefs - or rebels altogether. What's a parent of faith to do?

Local experts weigh in with some advice:

1. Be proactive.

“Develop great communication with your children from the start," says Ginger Denise, children’s ministry director at Hollywood Hills United Methodist Church. "Tell them the truth when they ask questions. Speak open and honestly, without criticism or condemnation. This will enhance their trust in you and help them know that you are always on their side.”

2. Ground yourself.

“Answer their questions as best as you can in language they can understand,” says the Rev. Wendy Pantoja of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Miami. “Genuine answers come from your own beliefs. If you are doubtful about them, this will come through, and children will pick up on it. So ground yourself well, and know why you hold on to your beliefs.”

3. Show the joy.

Show that attending services “is something that we enjoy doing," says Rabbi Rachel Greengrass of Temple Beth Am in Pinecrest. "Don't ever make it a treat that you're skipping services that week. Also make sure that your church or temple has appropriate services for your child and your family. If they do not, be the change that is needed in your congregation. Start a committee, talk to the rabbi or priest; get other parents involved.”

4. Don't make services optional.

“You can’t put an 18-year-old in the car and make them go,” says the Rev. Gabriel O’Reilly, a priest for 45 years, and founder of St. David’s Catholic Church in Davie. But for a younger child, you can say, “You don’t want to go to school either, but you have to go.”

5. Probe the doubt.

When kids ask "Why?," you do the same. "Find out what is going through your child's mind - Where is the hesitation coming from? - and address that issue,” Denise said. Suggest a youth group, or a different way to worship that will surround him with mentors and peers.

6. Keep the faith.

“The values you instill in them will remain," Pantoja said. "Invariably, children who stray away from what their parents want for them in religion and spirituality will return when they are grown up and are starting to raise families of their own. So keep your faith and love your children unconditionally.”