Parents have always been faced with the question, how much do I protect my child from current events?
This came home to us on 9/11 when we scrambled to pick up our children from schools which had early dismissals due to the attacks. My own child, then in elementary school, stated in the car that they were being sent home because planes were coming to bomb our homes. It was a chilling moment and my exact thought was of the parents in Poland in September, 1939. What’s happening and what do I tell my child?
My immediate response then was that there was no one coming to bomb us and that there was no physical danger; she would be alright. And in the coming days, we explained what many others did, that there are bad people who didn’t like our country and wanted to hurt our country. We avoided the immediate use of the first person plural, we. And as time progressed, we continued to fill them in as we thought appropriate.
My general philosophy is that children do best when they have some preparation. When we know that there’s a new experience on their horizon, we talk to them in advance and revisit the conversation several times. What’s the event? What can you expect and how should you behave? Do you – or we – have to prepare? If it’s a social, macro-level event, is there a way to describe it in terms that are more immediate to them?
My other philosophy is that children do need to be aware of what’s going on. Small children are attuned to their parents’ sense of calm and can tell when something is amiss. In his terrific oral history of the Great Depression, Hard Times, Studs Terkel interviews a women who was a small child during the time of the Crash. She recounts that she heard her parents’ frantic whisperings after the children were in bed and the sense of fear feeding off their fear even when she couldn’t hear the words of their conversations. They know that something’s up, so don’t just gloss over it. That said, Bill Cosby was correct. Kids just want an answer. Cosby responds to his child’s question, why is there air? He realized that kids don’t want the full science answer, just something to assure that you’ve got it covered. His response? To blow up basketballs. And you expand as they age. By the time they’re in upper elementary/middle school, they should be able to handle the larger details.
And that includes how it affects their daily lives. Is the economy in turbulent times and are you cutting back? Then share that with them; that everyone has to economize in order to better prepare for uncertainty. Will something happen to them? Probably not, but that’s why you prepare. And as you progress, you share that with them.
And then you really do make sure your bases are covered.