“Why are you wearing a poppy today, Daddy?”
My son whispered this question to me as I picked up my bags to head off to work. In Canada, we wear poppies in the days leading up to November 11 to remember fallen soldiers. I had mine on early and my son’s curiosity was piqued. I bent down and looked him in the eye. “A soldier died yesterday, bunny. I want to remember him,” I whispered back, tousled his hair, picked up my things and left.
It was the first my son was hearing of the dramatic shooting in Ottawa this week, when a lone gunman shot a reservist standing guard at Canada’s National War Memorial before bursting into our houses of Parliament and dying in a firefight with security just outside the door where the Canadian Prime Minister was meeting with his caucus.
It was a very tragic day. A day that didn’t need to be explained to a 4 and 7-year-old.
Here’s the thing: I don’t shy away from answering the difficult questions my kids ask, but I don’t actively seek out opportunities to open up Pandora’s Box. Why should I go out of my way to explain rape, murder, and war to a 7-year-old?
The news is never on when my kids are around. Never. We’re past the point where my wife can spell words out or even talk over the kids’ heads at the dinner table. They’re aware. They understand. So a current events cone of silence has descended in our house.
After the events in Ottawa this week, the “how to talk to your kids about tragedy” stories are now coming up. The same kind that showed up after Sandy Hook. The same kind that showed up after Boston. The same kind that … you get the routine.
“Kids talk on the playground. They understand more than you think,” is usually the response I get when I say that I avoid exposing my kids to tragic headlines.
“I believe in raising well-informed children,” a news anchor friend of mine challenged. “When they are ready is up to the parents.”
And there’s the rub.
You can wrap your kids as tightly as you want in your own ideology and philosophy, and do your best to keep their world filled with sugarplums and rainbows, but the moment they get in the real world, it all comes crumbling down. Stories are told. Facts are misinterpreted. The lowest common denominator reigns.
Of course, if that playground talk happens and my kids come home with questions, a straight answer will be given. I’ll explain it language they can understand. I’ll give the bare bones of facts, and I’ll look to Fred Rogers for inspiration.
“When I was a boy and I’d see scary things on the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helps. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of disaster, I remember my mother’s words and am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.”
Until then – why would I try to open up that nasty, evil, fear-filled can of worms?
Not now. Not yet. Not at 7. Not at 4.
Why would anyone want to do that?
As always, this is my take and yours may vary. I hope the piece gives you pause to think about how you do things in your family and perhaps even new insight. Respectful comments are always welcome.
Photo credit: Thinkstock