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Reality Check: "No More Church!"

Q. My 6-year-old doesn't want to go to church and says he doesn't believe in God. How should we handle this?

A. One of the downsides of giving our kids so many options (which book to read, what to have for lunch, what to do during "choice time" in school) is that it fools them into thinking they have a choice in everything. But some things are nonnegotiable, such as attending church with the rest of the family. Even if it leads to histrionics or a scene.

When my own resident rebels threaten mutiny, I'm often tempted to take the hard line and simply bark out orders. But that generally comes back to bite me. Sheer force will get your child into the car and the pew, but it won't make next Sunday any easier. The most effective way to handle your little insurrectionist may be to address the root of the problem rather than merely the symptoms—try to find out why he dislikes church so much.

My friends Donna and Mike have managed to get their family to church peacefully every Sunday for most of their children's lives, and their kids are no better behaved than yours or mine. The key, says Donna: "We made it a priority to find a church that was family-friendly—children are incorporated into the service, they get to go up front to say a prayer together and some noise and fidgeting are tolerated."

Of course, you don't have to switch churches. Sitting in the front, where your child can see and hear what's going on, may help solve the boredom problem. My husband and I let our girls bring Bible storybooks to synagogue when we know the service will be long. And attending church with friends who have kids the same age puts a social spin on the event that your son might even look forward to.

Needless to say, your own commitment to church has to be unwavering for your child to accept the fact that he must go even if he doesn't like it. As for not believing in God, an existential crisis is unlikely at 6. He probably just figures that nonbelievers aren't expected to show up at church. So tell your son that it's okay if he doesn't believe in God. God believes in him and looks forward to his visits.