Talking About Hard Things (With Kids)

(Everyday Bravery, Day 4)

As I related on my other blog last month, my six-year-old son recently asked me about the Zika virus:

While I was driving, my boy spotted a bug in the car and I told him that I’d seen a mosquito. “Is that mosquito virus here yet?” he asked.

“Mosquito virus? Do you mean Zika?”

He did.

“Well, it’s here in the United States,” I told him. “But it’s not here in our area. It’s in Florida.”

“Oh, that’s too bad for the babies there. There will be a lot of babies dying in their mommies’ tummies.”

Most people would probably be appalled to know that my six-year-old was thinking of such things. I’ll admit to feeling a little guilty about it. But mostly, I just felt proud. My boy is paying attention. He’s understanding. He’s asking questions. He’s caring. And he wrapped up our conversation by suggesting that we pray for the babies.

“God, please take care of the babies in their mommies’ tummies. Please keep them from getting the mosquito virus. That’s all.”

In reality, the conversation was a little longer than I made it out in my post. When he mentioned the babies that would be dying in their mommies’ tummies, I explained to him how Zika works. I told him that it impacts the brains of babies born to women with the virus, causing them to be too small. That the babies wouldn’t necessarily die from the illness, but that it would cause a lot of problems for them. I was as honest as I could be.

Because in our family, we talk about hard things with our kids.

We talk about death. We talk about life after death and about war and illness and guns and racism and bullying. We answer their questions as honestly as we can. We try to simplify these sometimes-complicated concepts so that our kids can begin to understand them.

Our boys know that all people – including them and us and other people they love – will die. We tell them that we hope it won’t happen for a long, long, long, long, long, long, LONG time, when we/they have become very, very old and have lived good, long lives – but that we just can’t know.

When they ask what happens to people when they die, I tell them that we hope they go to heaven. I say that we should try to be very, very good during our lives and to love Jesus very, very much – so much that when we die we go straight to heaven to be with Him. And I encourage them to pray for the dead: “Dear Lord, please help Grandpa Ed go to heaven to be with you.”

Our boys know that sometimes very sad things happen and that younger people – including children – die too. When we admonish them for dangerous behaviors, they routinely ask if they (or their siblings) could die from them. If they could, we tell them so. (The other day we caught one of them shaking the baby, so I brought up shaken baby syndrome.)

Sometimes I hate these conversations. I absolutely hated planting the horrible sadness of shaken baby syndrome in my kids’ minds. Sometimes I worry that we’ll make our children too fearful by talking about such things. (And I’m sure others will think we’re wrong to be so blunt.)

But so far, we haven’t made them too fearful. And so far, I think we’ve struck the right balance between honest information and loving tenderness.

We talk about hard things with our kids because we want our children to have their bearings. We want them to have a sense of the importance of it all, of consequences and underlying reasons. We want them to know that life here on earth is temporary, because you never know when that lesson will fly at them with ferocious sadness.

I listen to NPR almost all day long, in the car and in the kitchen, so my boys routinely hear snippets of war and shootings and unrest and disaster. (That’s how my son knew about the Zika virus.) Sometimes I turn it off if I think it’s gotten to be too much for them. But mostly, I welcome their questions about what they’re hearing and I try to help them process the information:

“Sometimes people become very angry with one another and they begin to fight. Sometimes people make mistakes. Sometimes people aren’t careful enough. Sometimes people don’t like other people because of how they look or what they believe about God. Sometimes the ground shakes. Sometimes big storms come.”

And then, “What do you do when you’re angry?” or “Do you sometimes make mistakes?” or “It’s all very, very sad. How about we pray for those people?”

We pray when something sad comes up on the news. We pray when we hear sirens. We pray when we learn that someone is hurt or ill or has died.

We talk about hard things. We try to help our children to understand them. We try to give them context. I do my best to plant the idea in my children’s minds that they have a role in it all – that they will encounter difficult things in life and that they will sometimes have opportunities to make them better. And that no matter how hopeless something seems, they can always pray.

I hope all of this – the talking about hard things, the honesty, the questions, the praying – I hope it encourages them to be brave.

these-walls-talking-about-hard-things

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This post is the fourth in a series called Everyday Bravery: A Write 31 Days Challenge. Every day this month I’m publishing a blog post on Everyday bravery – not the heroic kind, not the kind that involves running into a burning building or overcoming some incredible hardship. Rather, the kinds of bravery that you and I can undertake in our real, regular lives. To see the full list of posts in the series, please check out its introduction.

These Walls - Everyday Bravery

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Interested in coming along with me as I share stories about my family and chew on the topics of motherhood, politics, and society? Like These Walls on Facebook or follow the blog via email. (Click the link on the sidebar to the right.) You can also follow me on Twitter and Instagram and you can find me at my politics blog at the Catholic Review, called The Space Between.

 

3 thoughts on “Talking About Hard Things (With Kids)

  1. It sounds to me as if you are doing exactly right in this area. Kids need to know that there are problems in the world and what they need to do about them. And prayer is a wonderful answer to some of those problems.

  2. It’s important to talk about death now – the way you’re doing it – instead of waiting until tragedy occurs, or a beloved grandparent dies. I’m thankful now that my grandmama would take me to visit my granddaddy’s grave (he died when I was 2), to leave flowers and tidy up the graveyard. It didn’t seem morbid; it was a normal part of life, albeit a sad one.

  3. My son’s Big Sister is a social worker. We’ve explained to him that her job is to help families stay together even when the moms and dads are very good at being parents. He understands that and prays for families during our evening prayers.

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