How or if to talk about Hell to children

I have a 2 and 5 year old and my five year old thinks everyone who loves jesus goes to heaven and I have never talked or she has never heard of hell is it appropriate to bring it up at a certain age. I don’t want to scare her but one thing that bothers me is my parents are fairly Unitarian even though they go to mass regularly and my wife believes in sola Fieda. I have talked to all of them about their beliefs with no minimal change. This effects my five year olds beliefs. My five year old daughter will constantly say while is great grandpa in heaven my parents or wife will say yes. I fell like saying Emma I don’t now I’m not God but I know my family would get angry at me.

I haven’t been explicit with our 4.5 year old, but have planted seeds, with more vague, child-like understandings of rewards and punishments.If she’s good and does what papa says then she will get to go to heaven and see Jesus where they have candy and dances. If she’s bad and doesn’t do what papa says(and mama too) and is mean to her little brother then she doesn’t get to go to heaven and goes to the bad place for bad people where they get only green beans to eat forever. I haven’t taught her the word “hell” yet, and don’t intend to until she at least has better control of what she says.

They don’t think abstractly at this age and can really only get a vague understanding, but I think it is important to underscore a reward/punishment system. Also, it reinforces your role as parent, gives outside approval to your authority, and underlines the importance of obedience.

With our kids we try to introduce it slowly and naturally. Generally it starts something like this:

  • We point to icons or statues and ask the kids who they depict when they are 2 or so.
  • Around 3 or 4 they start to ask why Jesus is on that “stick thing” so we start talking about why Jesus died for our sins.
  • Over the next couple years we talk to them about sin in context of behavior guidelines
  • As they understand sin we teach them that each time we sin we nail Christ to the cross
  • By the time they are 6 to 7 we talk about how Hell is turning their back on Christ and being without him for ever. We talk about how sin is choosing Hell over Christ. We often talk about a friend who moved away that they will never see again and how that makes them feel sad.

I guess what I am saying is we try to lay a foundation on loving Christ and doing God’s will. With that in place we can explain how sin hurts God and ultimately how we can be separated from God in Hell.

Should you teach young kids about Hell and sin? Most certainly. If you try to wait until they are 8, 9, 10 it might be too late. You don’t need to scare them, but explain it as a natural consequence of doing wrong.

Children that age are very immediate. They also are incapable of mortal sin, so bringing up the possibility of Hell is premature. It is better, IMHO, to teach them that relationships are not just about how you feel about someone, but are knit by how you treat them and the ways of being that you share. I remember one little boy, for instance, who answered someone who wanted to know if he was telling the truth with this standard: Our family does not lie, and when we make mistakes, we admit them.

I’d teach them that doing good and avoiding sin are ways we love Jesus, that love is not just a feeling but in how we act. They can understand here-and-now relationships. Stress that sin takes you away from Jesus in the here-and-now, while pleasing God in how you act naturally brings you closer to God and to everyone else–and loving them is very important to God, so it needs to be important to all who love him, too!–because it makes you more like him. I would also teach them that when they wrong someone that they ought to ask for forgiveness and to try to make amends for what they did. This is a good habit–that is, to show contrition not by extracting payment out of those we forgive in a tit-for-tat sort of way, but for the forgiven person to want to do extra good and be more merciful to others as a way of showing appreciation for having been forgiven.

Talking about Hell can wait until they are better at risk assessment and more able to understand what a serious sin is. Keep them innocent of what those serious sins are, for the time being. Give them good habits in how they look at doing good and dealing with failures to love, instead. Teach them to look at sins as something that they put between themselves and God, not as rules that God will whack them for when they cross the line. More to the point, enforce your own rules as God does. Make them natural rules with good reasons and natural consequences, enforced firmly but without giving the child that the idea is for them to either toe the line or get whacked. The idea, instead, is for them to develop the habit of thinking of others before themselves and taking care of their relationships and responsibilities, to be someone who can be counted on to act in a loving way.

I suppose I mean that they ought to develop a desire to become saints first, and then to learn that a proportionate fear of damnation is required later. That is a better order for the innocent to take.


And “overcooked” green beans, at that.

I’m more in favor of a “take care of your relationships” and “what kind of person do you want to become?” system. Having said that, I have often told my children this:* I’m your mom, I have to feed you. Keep in mind, though, that I don’t have to feed you things that you like. *One hand washes the other, it doesn’t hurt for them to know that. :rolleyes:

When you’re five, after all, which is worse–the hazard of an eternity of green beans some day, or the certainty of a big heap of green beans tonight? :smiley: (The only thing the former does is to keep them up at night, IMHO. I’d rather sleep than deal with nightmares.)


I heard there’s a children’s video on Our Lady of Fatima, It’s not recommended for the 2 y.o., though. This teaches children about hell but also how to avoid it.