This question has come up for me in a few ways recently. Most obviously, in terms of the recent events in Boston, but I've also been realizing that the Bug is old enough to understand a lot of what we hear on the radio, and I listen to NPR all the time.
So what do we tell our kids about the awfulness that happens in our world?
I looked to my own childhood for an answer. My dad is a retired firefighter, and my formative years coincided with the last decade of the Cold War. Because of the family news habit and the disaster-preparedness side of Dad's job, I had a pretty clear sense that the world could be a pretty dreadful place pretty early on. But the other sense I had was that almost universally, there are people running in to help. I've always been very proud that my dad was one of them. I wasn't shielded from the awfulness.
I have a relative who doesn't watch or listen to news because she doesn't think it is appropriate for her kids, but now that her oldest is in school, I kind if wonder how this head-in-the-sand approach is working? What kind if questions did she have to answer tonight because of the garbled version that was passed around grade 2 today?
I don't think it is a good approach to sit kids in front of CNN and turn them into disaster wonks, but I think it is equally important to be their source of information. When something big happens, talk to them about it. I'm a runner. Yesterday's events had me pretty shaken up. The Bug is 3, at the height of the narcissistic stage of life, but if she had asked why I was upset, I would have told her the basic facts: there was a bomb, a lot of people got hurt, the police are trying to catch the bad people who did it. From there, I would answer any questions she would have asked as simply and honestly as possible. I probably would not show her the video. I probably would tell her what to do if we were ever in a crowded place and something scary happened. (Find a policeman or other helper, tell them your name, show them your RoadID) I would tell her that I plan on running my half marathon in 10 days still because I won't let bullies and bad guys run my life.
I think kids know when we're not being honest. And I think if we want them I rust us as they grow up, we have to be honest with them from the start. I also think they let us know when we've told them enough. If we listen. When I was about 4, I asked my mom where babies come from, and she did the best thing she could have done-- she asked why I wanted to know, and it turns out that a neighbor had told me she had a baby in her tummy, which I knew couldn't be true, because if it was , she would poop the baby out. All I needed to be told at that juncture was that there was a special place inside mommies, near their tummies, for babies to grow and I was happy. I didn't follow by asking how they got in our out of there, and by figuring out what I wanted to know, and only answering the exact question I asked, my mom was able to not overwhelm me with details I wasn't ready for. I think we should so the same with world events.