After some horrific act, like the mass shooting in Orlando, for example, it always boggles my mind to hear parents ask, “What should we tell our children?”
How about the truth. That seems simple enough.
Whenever my children would ask about something, be it in the news or something they read or heard, I would tell them the truth. If I didn’t know the truth, then I’d help them find the truth. Right?
I ran this past an expert, just to make sure I wasn’t way off base. Dr. Kimberly Langrehr, assistant professor of counseling and educational psychology at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, pretty much agreed.
“Parents do kids a disservice when they over-shelter them and not tell the truth,” said Langrehr, who’s a licensed psychologist. “Truth and the facts are important.”
I hadn’t thought about this part, but she said, “Kids will learn the truth eventually, and then that could discredit the parent.”
The doc and I see eye-to-eye.
Take that dreaded question: Where do babies come from? My oldest never asked. But my younger son, Mr. Inquisitive, definitely asked.
“Babies grow in a woman’s belly,” I told him. That was an easy one. And, for a 4-year-old, it was good enough for a few days. Then he came back and asked, “How does it get in her belly?”
Once I figured out the “it” he was referring to, I said something like, “Well you know that men and women have different body parts? Those parts fit one inside the other. Fluids are exchanged and mix together inside a special area in the woman’s belly. It’s kind of like a plant seed that the woman has, that is watered by fluids the man has. And from that mixture a baby grows inside the belly.”
He thought about it a moment. “Ohhhh …” he said. I figured he got it.
I always thought that silly story about giant storks flying overhead carrying babies in cloth bundles was a heck of a lot scarier than the truth anyway. What if the stork dropped the bundle? Plus, it makes no sense. OK, neither does an old man in a red suit sitting in a deer-driven sleigh. But Santa’s dumping toys, not a baby brother or sister.
When Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold shot and killed 13 people at Columbine High School in 1999, Jordan was 3 years old. I was glued to the television and visibly sad. I remember our conversation like it was yesterday.
“What happened, Mommy?” he asked.
“A group of teenagers were shot and killed today.”
“I don’t know. But police are trying to find out why, and then we will know.”
“Who did that?”
“Are they coming here?”
“No. Police stopped them.”
He was good with that.
Good thing he’d asked me instead of his dad. His dad would have unloaded a ton more information. He had let the boys know early on that these horrible things were not done by some big, hairy, fanged monster but rather by human beings who look like us but something in their brain did not work and made them do horrific things.
He never wanted the boys thinking that only ugly monsters did ugly things.
And neither of us wanted our children growing up thinking everything was candy canes, warm baths and perfume. Some things taste nasty, cause pain and stink. They needed to know that.
Jordan was 11 when 32 people were shot to death at Virginia Tech. His brother was 16. By that time, our family conversation was far more detailed. Both had seen the news and were able to process the information and express their opinions on the tragedy. I could be wrong, but I think that was because of the honest conversations we’d always had with them.
See, we can’t protect our children from everything, nor should we. My job as a parent is to inform them about the good, the bad and the dangerous. To prepare them so they can protect themselves. At some point they leave the nest. I’m thinking, if my guys are not prepared they will be overwhelmed, confused, easily influenced or worse.
Those things could happen anyway, but, heck, I figure if they know what’s out there at least they will have a solid starting place.
So while I hate those tips on how to talk to your child, if I were pressed to share advice, it would be this: Follow your kid’s lead, and for goodness’ sake, tell your kid the truth.