The year 2020 has been one of turmoil, unrest, and confusion. Parents are dealing with how to explain to their children the scary and unexplainable things they may have been experiencing. Whenever I think about teaching my children about a delicate matter, I am reminded of lyrics from one of my favorite musicals, Into The Woods, as sung by Barbra Streisand on her album, Back to Broadway. You can listen here.
How do you say to your child in the night
Nothing is all black, but then nothing is all white?
How do you say it will all be alright
When you know that it mightn’t be true?
What do you do?
We have all felt this moment, whether as a parent, grandparent, teacher, aunt, uncle, or babysitter. The unequivocal sense of, “What do I say?”
I have always been a firm believer in telling children the truth, even if it is difficult. That does not mean I tell them every intricate detail or things beyond their understanding, but I do always try to boil it down to their level so they can understand.
There is a picture of me facing the Lincoln Memorial right after I had participated in the Women’s March in January of 2017. My friend snapped it as I was standing there, looking at the Memorial, which has always been my favorite. My son often asks me why I have that photo. He has been asking since he was nearly 6, and he first saw it 3 1/2 years ago. My explanation has gotten more in-depth as time passed; it runs along the lines of this. “Mommy went to a march, a march is where a group of people who all believe in the same thing get together and walk. There were things mommy didn’t agree with happening in the country, so I participated to show I wanted things to change.”
My children have already experienced two of the “Big Issues”, parents may face; divorce of their parents, and the death of a pet. At no point did we exclude them from asking questions or explaining things to them. I was fortunate that my divorce was remarkably civil, and we remain friends. I was able to honestly and simply tell my children that Daddy and I decided we would be better as friends, and it’s true. They never saw any fights or disagreements (not that we had many). They saw a united front, and that is one of the most important things you can do.
This year alone, as if corona virus, schools closing, activities being canceled, and vacations hanging on by a thread were not enough to discuss with our kids, riots are happening throughout the country. I am not going to discuss the politics behind the riots, that not what this blog is about, but I bring them up as a current and frightening example of a situation children may have questions about. My partner and I have made a point of not discussing them when the youngest two are around or awake. But should they happen to see or hear something, I have had to think about what I would say? My children know racism is wrong, I have listened to my son make a comment about things he has heard in movies or on YouTube, proclaiming what the person said was racist, and he was right. Explaining riots is an entirely different and complex issue.. I can’t hand you a script and tell you what to say, but I can break down the guidelines you should use when talking to your child about a difficult situation. You will have to guide the conversation to reveal your morals and feelings, something which only you can do.
- Present a united front. No matter what you and your partner, spouse, ex-spouse, a grandmother who lives with you, etc. believe personally, you need to come to a consensus of what and how you will say things should a question arise.
2. Consider your child’s age, temperament, and ability to understand. You know your child best. There is nothing wrong with using concepts or words they do not know; you can expand their knowledge this way, but don’t delve too far beyond, or they may become more confused.
3. Take your current mind frame into account. If you are stressed, angry, sad, they will sense that, even if they are not exactly sure what they are sensing. Children are amazingly intuitive. It’s ok to say to your child, I want to answer your question, but I need about 5 minutes, then collect yourself.
4. Talk to your child about your feelings concerning an issue, ask how they are feeling, and then validate their feelings. If they have seen a frightening photo, focus on the people’s emotions rather than what is happening. Ask them to describe what they think people are feeling.
5. Remind your children they are safe. That you are there, and they can talk to you about anything. When my children come to me and say, “Mom, can I ask you something?” or “Mom, can I tell you something?” my answer is “Always.” Children need to know they can come to you for ANYTHING. If you instill that when they are young, by the time they reach the teens, they are much more likely to come to you when things like sex, drugs, and questionable activities arise.
6. There are children’s books on pretty much every sensitive topic out there, including death, divorce, racism, moving, class structure, bullying, diversity, etc. If you can’t find the words, books, and social stories can be a great resource.
There is no easy way to talk to our kids about some of the world’s events right now. Still, it is our job to do everything in our power to prepare, educate, support, and explain so that when the time comes, we can release them out into this maddening world and watch them fly.
Guide them but step away
Children will glisten
Tamper with what is true
And children will turn
If just to be free
Careful before you say
“listen to me.”
Children will listen…