Sharing the Bad Stuff with Younger Kids, Take 2

Two weeks ago, I wrote a post about editing the scary stuff from Bible stories when I read them to my 5-year-old.  I acknowledged that the time when she starts understanding the scary stuff, both in The Bible and in real life, is fast approaching.  However, for as long as I am in control of the stories, my first instinct is to try to find an age-appropriate way to tell them, and at this age what feels most appropriate is a telling without violence.  Since I wrote that post, the universe has reminded me that the notion of control is a luxury, and often an illusion.

About a week after my post, Melissa Schorr wrote a lovely reflection on protecting childhood innocence in The Boston Globe Magazine.  In the article, she talks about the heartache she felt when she had to explain the Holocaust to her 8-year-old before she was ready to do so.  The piece is also about coming to understand her parents’ choice to shield her from evil as a child, and the rare gift of being able to do so.

In response, KJ Dell’Antonia wrote a piece on The New York Times website about how she discusses tragedy with her kids.  Dell’Antonia argues that if you want to choose how tragedy is explained to your kids, you can’t wait for the right time.  She points out that there rarely is a time that will feel right, and that we often don’t have a say in the timing of our kids’ discoveries.  The article encourages parents to seize opportunities to talk about tragedy when they arise.

Reading these, I first wondered if my declaration to protect my child from Biblical evil was a wimpy one.  But I don’t think that that was the point.  These two articles remind us that we aren’t really in charge of everything our children see and hear.  Because of this, we need a strategy so that when our kids ask tough questions we know what we want to say, and aren’t deciding in the heat of the moment.

And then, on Friday, something awful happened.  A 14-year old boy fatally shot his 9-year-old brother inside their Boston home.  I do not know the intimate details, but I do know that it is a terrible tragedy.  My heart breaks for the boys’ family and friends.

On Saturday, I took Ruthie with me to a community meeting.  The meeting was not about the incident, so the speaker caught me off guard by beginning the meeting with a report on the shooting and a moment of silence in remembrance of the young boy.

On our way home, Ruthie asked me what the man said about the boy and the gun.  So I recounted the facts that I knew she had already heard in a direct way – that a boy was playing with a gun, and another boy was shot.  I waited to see if she had a response.  She asked me why there was a gun in their house, and I told her that some people have guns in their houses, but that guns are very dangerous, and that kids should never ever play with them.  I reminded her that I work with a lot of Moms who are trying to help protect kids from guns.  She was done with her questions and shifted the conversation to the rules around gunplay at school, and we had a great conversation about how we both feel about gunplay.

As we pulled into our driveway, I felt the ache that Schorr described about the potential for Ruthie’s childhood bubble to shrink, even with me trying to blow new air into it at the other end.  Ruthie seems fine – she got the facts she needed, and she seems much more nervous today about the Louis Sachar teacher who turns children into apples than about guns.

I still think I might edit The Bible stories for a little bit longer, since I hope to nurture my girls’ early romance with them before jumping into the tougher parts.  But I am going to try to be ready for those moments that I need to seize, when the best way to make my girls feel secure is to tell them difficult things in the context of what they mean for our lives.  All the while, I will be trying my best to be a reliable primary source as they try to make sense of the world.

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