I wish there hard-and-fast rules about when to have the "tough talks" with our kids. Like how preschool teachers do Kindergarten-readiness tests and then let parents know when their kids are ready to advance. Wouldn't it be nice if someone could give us a sign when the time for these conversations is right?
"Yes, Mrs. Russell, feel free to discuss the 9/11 attacks; your daughter is mature enough to handle that level of evil."
"No, Mrs. Russell, she needs a more few months before she hears about the difference between vaginal and anal sex."
It's like that with the God Talk, too, especially for those of us who have anxiety about (1) not wanting our kids to believe everything they hear and (2) not wanting to indoctrinate them into our ways of thinking. Sure, most of us generally know we need to address God with our kids somewhere between the ages of 3 and 6. But when exactly is the right time — not just for kids in general, but for my kid?
Often, we don't have a choice in these matters. Relatives or peers introduce our kids to the "existence" of God before we have the chance to broach the subject ourselves. Or a grandparent or pet dies, which moves the conversation naturally in that direction.
But if you find yourself wanting to bring these things up yourself and aren't sure if your child is "ready," you might try a game called Fact, Fiction, or Belief.
The idea is to make statements and have your son or daughter tell you whether the statement is fact, fiction or belief. Define "fact" as anything that's true; "fiction" as anything that's made up; and "belief"as anything that some people think is fact and other people think is fiction. (For purposes of this game, opinions, preferences, tastes, etc. all can be considered "belief.") The bonus to this game is that you're also teaching the word "fiction," whose meaning has confounded children for decades — ever since we got the rather loony idea to make "nonfiction" the name given to books that are not untrue.
For instance, you might say: The moon is in the sky. And your child would say: Fact!
It's okay to make people feel bad. (Fiction!)
Pink is the best of all the colors. (Belief!)
The game works really well during car rides, which are also — incidentally — when a lot of kids ask questions about the existence of the universe anyway. (Must be something about sitting still and just thinking.) Don't get too wrapped up in making everything too literal. Just keep in mind the point of the game, and have fun with it.
And when your child has mastered it? You can be relatively assured she's ready to advance to the next level.