Disengaged or disinterested
It’s our secret fear – that our kid will lose interest in God-stuff and walk away. But just because they seem disinterested or disengaged doesn't mean that they are.
So what can we do when nothing seems to engage them and they just aren’t bothered? Rachel tackled this subject in one of our Bedtime Drinks with Rachel Facebook Lives, talking to parents of under fivess, primary aged kids, and lastly pre-teens and teens. You can watch any or all of what she said in the videos below, or skip down for a brief summary of the content.
For parents and carers of 0s to 5
1. Change what you’re measuring
We love doing faith stuff with under 5s! Reading bible stories together, singing songs, making things. But as with everything with under fives there are times when it just doesn’t seem to be holding their interest.
But if we shift our focus from the activity we are doing to the fruit we want to see grow in them, it releases the pressure. So you can shift from ‘will they listen to the Bible story we’re reading’ to ‘how can I help my child love God’s word’. If they don’t stay and listen to the story, that’s OK – there are lots of other ways to help them hear and relate to God’s word. Look out for the fruit popping up at all sorts of times and places: don’t worry if they still look disinterested as you are doing the activity,
2. Let go of the shoulds
We can have a picture in our head of what faith in an under five should look like and when it doesn’t look like that we can feel like we’ve failed. But if we pivot from ‘My kid should engage with all my family faith activities’, but to what you expect, it gives you a different perspective. For example: ‘I expect that God will be talking to my under five’ / ‘I expect that all under fives can perceive and follow God’ / ‘I expect that my kid is watching me and seeing how God and I connect’. This releases you from the sense of control and disappointment because you know that God has naturally positioned your kids to meet and know him and it’s not something you can force or control.
3. Think about how we are trying to get them engaged
Under fives learn so much by watching us and copying: and spiritually we are their biggest resource. But often we default to child-centric activities, and if they aren’t interested we stop the activity. But if you choose to continue with a spiritual activity after they walk away, you create windows into your relationship with God, and so because it’s important to you, it will feel important to them.
4. Look for the micro rather than the macro
We often default to looking for the big clear signs that your kid is engaging with spiritual stuff, but miss the tiny moments when they momentarily stop and look, or sing some bits of a song randomly in the car, or look at the pictures in their Bible book. Look out for and celebrate the micros.
Here’s a video reply to a question from a mum that Rachel answered:
Parents and carers of 5s – 11s, and preteens and teens
1. Work out what they are disengaged from
If a child appears to be disinterested in faith things, it can feel overwhelming. But it’s rare for them to be wholly disengaged from everything. So the first step is to take time to work out exactly what they are disengaged from. Possible scenarios:
- They are disengaged from God himself because they don’t like or understand what they imagine he is like
- They are just in a plateau and are bored with faith
- They are disengaged from church – kids are finding it very hard to engage with online church in particular
- They are tired of family faith activities
- They are struggling with understanding where God is and what he’s doing in the world so find it easier not to engage
Conversations are a great way to crack open the issue with your child: creating windows into times you’ve experienced something similar, or asking curious questions (questions with no right answer that start a conversation). Your role as a parent is to coach them through this phase, and once you know what they are disengaged with, you can work out your next step to help them.
2. Normalise their disengagement
It’s important that kids realise that feeling disengaged or disinterested is a normal part of everyone’s spiritual journey, and isn’t an end in itself. By sharing your experiences, talking about it and offering to help you are equipping your child to manage not just this bit but their lifelong journey with God.
For preteens and teens, this might be an opportunity to really provoke some big conversations that will open up the conversations. Big issues like #blacklivesmatter or climate change can be useful as we discuss God’s relevance, significance and action in the world. Share books and resources that tell the stories of Christians who underwent terrible things and still followed God (for example, Jesus Freaks and Through the Gates of Splendour by Elizabeth Elliott) or books that really challenge conventional views like God is Stranger by Krish Kandiah).
3. Check they know they have purpose
When you look in the Bible you see that there are three components of healthy faith:
- Identity: knowing who you are in God
- Relationship: knowing how to have a relationship with him
- Purpose: knowing what your purpose is on earth
If kids don’t know what their purpose is (or what God’s purpose is), they can feel like there’s no point; when faith feels purposeless it’s difficult to stay engaged with it. Show them how purposeful and active God is, and help them find their purpose and what God is calling them to do. Rachel wrote a book called ‘Parenting Children for a Life of Purpose’ (now published as part of ‘Parenting Children for a Life of Faith Omnibus’) which is all about helping kids find their purpose in life and live that purpose, no matter how old they are.
Questions and comments Rachel answered for 5s to 11s
This is such good timing, my eldest announced she didn’t want to be a Christian anymore yesterday and after a few questions I think it’s more about connecting with God and fed up with church and feeling it’s boring…
I think in my attempts to surf the waves of my kids’ interests and personalities, I’ve actually ended up blindsiding them into surfing my wave with me. The other day my kids said to me “but why do you have to always make it about Jesus!” I’ve inadvertently made God and Jesus and church “my” thing and the disinterest has stemmed from them forgetting it’s their thing too.
My son has always been one to have transitional objects – bringing a Teddy from bed to downstairs, taking a toy/book into the car. He’s recently started bringing toys to the dinner table which I have found annoying but may be it’s a sign he’s feeling more unsettled/anxious than he’s showing. He’s stuck in a gap in our church at the moment – too old for kids’ resources for during the service but not old enough for the youth stuff. I think we need to make time to problem solve where he’s at.
My 13 year old isn’t so much disengaged but questioning how she knows Christianity is true with a particular reference to heaven too. It’s keeping her awake at night. We’ve talked about her personal experiences and all the things that we fall back on when we’re a bit doubtful but it is hard to find new responses to the same questions.
Questions and comments Rachel answered for preteens and teens
Our kids have lost interest in online church. At the moment, bible stories just can’t compete with Star Wars – which seem so much more exciting to my son!!
My foster daughter struggled with knowing if God loved her and when I dug deeper I realised it was because she was struggling to love herself. She asked ‘if God loves me why did he make me so that I get angry when people frustrate me’ (referring to her brother) so we had a conversation about being angry isn’t a sin and that it’s how we handle that anger that matters and I reminded her the times when she had handles her anger well and not lashed out. Also that God didn’t make her angry but that some of her experiences in this broken world had made her that way. This really helped her understand a bit better.
I wonder if you have any thoughts on how we can encourage our teens to engage with faith when they don’t necessarily engage with their peers, so don’t access youth groups etc which might be the obvious route for many teens to find a faith community where they belong?
Zoom is a hideous ordeal for self-conscious teens. I have several in my group who can’t cope with that format and have dropped out of the youth sessions. Any tips for keeping connected with them? (Our policy is only to use social media/communication with parents, not the kids.)