"Even quite young children are able to feel in touch with God," says Paul J. Philibert of the Boys Town Center for the Study of Youth Development at Catholic University.
They will notice a parent in silent prayer, see him or her hold a Bible and want to imitate these acts, he says.
Regardless of what parents do, says Philibert, children from about 8 to 12 will pick up religius information from "street-corner" converstions. If a parent is faced with a rebellious adolescent, he says it's helpful to "try to think back to your own infatuations and angers and remember how difficult, yet productive a time this is."
Philibert suggests parents share doubts or difficulties with their children. "Kids are more likely to believe when parents tell them their own religious life is a mixture of belief and disbelief."
"Too many of us were brought up with someone insisting we go to church, and so we're afraid not to," he says. Instead, he suggests "shopping around" for a church to fit your family's needs.
Non-practicing parents who show "the religious qualities of loving, caring, patience" are teaching religion, says Philibert, although they are not saying the church-related words. Parents who are "constantly evoking God, yet acting in rigid, demanding, arbitrary ways can have a terrible effect on their children."