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My wife and I have two friends in our inner-circle of best friends. They are our neighbours as well.

We are atheists, not missionary, but strict. They are religious, not missionary either, but very strict. We come along very well and religion is not a topic at all, besides the occasional raise of an eyebrow on sentences like "human had much better genes back then when they reached 700 years and got 70 children" or "the earth is 5000 years old" which look contrary to their normal life (e.g. he's a medical doctor).

However, we both have kids and our daughter and their daughter are really good friends ( 6 and 7 years) and they end up playing together a lot of times. We sometimes noticed that their daughter is kinda weird when it comes to processing religious beliefs in everyday life. E.g. once they where playing really risky at the playground and I told her to play less risky and she said she can do it because god watches her. She sometimes tells us that she's scared of satan or that she doesn't go to heaven if she does xyz.

On cleaning our daughters room, we noticed recently that she started to write a lot of notes like "Satan go away", "God why don't you make satan die" or "I hate satan, help me god" when she visited our daughter.

We find that pretty scary. We don't want that to affect our kid (which she isn't at the moment, besides occasionally asking us if god is real etc.). However, I think that our neighbours daughter has to deal with a lot of fear on her own and that she is really scared and insecure.

We do suspect, that this is not really coming from our friends but from their church, where they have a children group and we've been there once on a baptism as an invite and some people there are really weird. I don't want to come around like I'm intolerant, but I wouldn't let my kids come near to some of those people at all.

How can I communicate to my friends my trouble without coming along like the intolerant atheist?

Concretely I want her daughter stop talking / acting about fear of Satan to my daughter, as prohibiting the. from playing together is not something I would want.

  • What exactly do you want to communicate to your friends, do you just want to know how to tell them that their daughter is writing these notes? I'm not quite sure if you want to say "please tell your daughter not to talk about religion with my daughter" or "I think your daughter needs counseling" or something else. – Em C Jan 20 at 15:48
  • Basically both, though I basically want to bring up the topic and that I think that they need to talk about this with her. However, talking about priorities, I'd like her to stop talking about Satan and Fear in front of my daughter. Updated my question. – shredding Jan 20 at 16:56
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    @shredding This is a tricky situation. It may help you to write a question on the Parenting Exchange on how to speak to your daughter about this as well. – Lord Farquaad Jan 21 at 14:28
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Relistically, you cannot ask a child of that age to not speak of certain things with your daughter. It seems to occupy her mind a lot, and these little notes seem to be her way of coping with this topic. Once she comes to terms with the topic, the notes should stop as well.

However, if she feels like she has to keep her trouble a secret because speaking about it and writing notes results in reprimands, it could influence her mental development in a negative way. At the worst case it would teach her that she should "eat up" or hide her sorrows instead of talking about them to a person she trusts.

From your question it's not clear whether she's actually afraid of Satan or is just repeating things she heard at church like children repeat "I want to become a fire fighter or astronaut". The notes you give as examples could just as well be interpreted as prayers to God. You find them scary, but maybe the girl doesn't mean them in a negative way. If her fear of Satan is genuine, you should treat it like any non-religious fear. It's really not different from a child afraid of monsters under the bed or ghosts in the basement.

First of all, you should inform your neighbors that the topic of Satan is troubling their daughter. They have the prior right and responsibility for the upbringing of their child. Since the eternal fight between good and evil, God and Satan is a central theme of the christian belief, they probably have a good answer to soothe a child's fear. She is certainly not the first child asking "Why doesn't God simply kill Satan?".

If her behavior doesn't change within a reasonable time, you can try to comfort her yourself, BUT you shouldn't argue that God and Satan don't exist. This could just confuse her more or even damage your friendship with your neighbors. And it's unlikely that she believes you more than her parents and figures of authority at her church.

A better line of argumentation is to make her aware of how good her life is and that this is proof that Satan has no power over her. The sun rises every morning, the birds chirp, she has family and friends who love her. All these are gifts from God to her so she doesn't have to be afraid of Satan.

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No matter what they and their parents believe in, lots of kids have nightmares and/or worry about stuff that they needn't worry about. Ask yourself: would you be so alarmed if the girl was having nightmares about monsters under her bed? Probably not, that sort of thing is normal with all kids no matter how their parents raise them. So, first of all, make sure that the thing unnerving you really does centre around the child worrying about stuff in general, and not simply that you don't like the things she is worrying or writing notes about.

You might be thinking that if she hadn't been told something existed, she wouldn't be scared of it - but if you search online for advice on how to stop your kids being scared of monsters at night the overwhelming majority of advice sites claim that telling kids that "monsters don't exist" doesn't work. Most advocate instead saying things like "mummy and daddy have special powers that keeps monsters away", which personally I think is rubbish and with my own kids I just stuck to the line that they don't exist, but I accept that this kind of advice probably represents a majority of cases where it hasn't worked. Really then, the beliefs of the girl's parents may be the subject of her worries but they probably are not the cause.

Actually, the note you quoted where the girl wrote "God why don't you make satan die" - although that is a little odd from a child, it is an interesting theological question! I think that if an adult was taught that God and a devil existed they would probably ask a similar question - why would a benevolent god create an evil creature and allow him to exist? Some find an answer to that question that satisfies them within religion - others may not, and it could lead them to look elsewhere outside of religion and philosophy for answers about life. It may have been questions like this that led you to be an atheist, I don't know. My point is that the things she is thinking about may be more of an "awakening" than something that is going to trouble her for life.

What you should probably do is let her parents know that she appears to be worrying about some things whilst she has been in your care. Maybe give them the notes, but don't comment on the contents of them. You could just say something like:

I thought I'd pass these on to you - [name of child] wrote them at our house, and I just thought if she was worried about something you'd know how best to deal with it.

If they are as moderate as you say, then they may well feel the same way as you do, that it isn't healthy for a 6/7 year old child to be worrying about those things, even if they do believe in them. As an analogy, many parents today feel it necessary to teach their kids about safety and how to deal with strangers, but you wouldn't want them to lay awake at night worrying about strangers, even though you know they are real. Hopefully your friends will talk to their child the best way they know how to stop her worrying.

As you want the behaviour to stop in your house so it doesn't influence your own kids, by all means monitor the situation, but you may need to allow some time. Kids don't stop believing in monsters under the bed after one pep-talk, so this may also take her parents a bit of time. If after what you consider to be a reasonable time has elapsed this is still going on, you could perhaps say something like:

Remember those notes I passed your way? I've noticed that our girls are still talking about their beliefs, and mine is starting to worry and ask me questions about the devil. I can only answer her in line with my own beliefs. You know that we respect your beliefs, I'm just concerned about our girl getting scared about things she's heard about from yours. And maybe you're just as concerned that mine is going to tell yours that there is no such thing. Is there anything we can do about that?

That tells him that you are concerned without making it all about what he believes. I think that flipping it around and pointing out that if your two girls have a theological discussion it is just as likely she'll tell his daughter what you'd said helps to balance it out and show it could be both of your concerns. See what he says, but try to find common ground, even though you have differing beliefs because all good parents want their kids to be happy and not get confused by other people's conflicting ideas.

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    If the parents don’t go the way this question predicts, perhaps you could request that the daughter put her “written prayers” in her pocket or purse instead of leaving them in the room. – WGroleau Jan 22 at 16:51

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