On the evening the Opening Ceremonies for the Vancouver Winter Olympic games were to start, I bathed my kids early and got them into their pajamas, then all four of us settled on the couch with blankets and popcorn to watch the show.
I knew that an athlete from Georgia had been killed earlier in the day and I expected there to be a mention of the tragedy at some point in the broadcast, but I was not expecting the topic to be at the beginning of the coverage. Nor was I expecting NBC to show footage of the crash. Bob Costas did say that the images might be disturbing to some, but 5 seconds later, the crash was shown, and my 5 year old and 3 year old were right there on the couch, front and center.
My daughter was pretty oblivious, but when I glanced at my son, he looked stunned. He asked what happened, he asked about the fate of the athlete.
I told him the truth. “He was hurt really bad and he died.”
Since then, I’ve noticed a barrage of questions from my 5 year old.
“If I touch my jammies and then put my hand in my mouth, will I die?”
“If I slip on a toy and fall on the floor, will I die?”
“If I don’t eat my peas, will I die?”
“If I stay up all night and don’t get enough rest, will I die?”
Easter is fast approaching and he has questions about that too.
“What is a soul? Do I have one?”
“Why did Jesus die and then come back to life and go up to Heaven to live with his dad God?”
At first, I was a little disturbed by his fixation on death, but then I realized it’s just his way of making sense of a difficult subject. In addition, it’s a topic he’ll have to face at some point in his life, whether it’s a beloved pet or someone he knows. That’s why I chose to tell him the truth when he asked what happened to the Georgian luger. It would have been really easy to lie to him and tell him the athlete was fine. It would have been really easy to avoid the word “died.” But I felt like lying to him wouldn’t help teach him the lessons he needs to know. In addition, coverage of the death is everywhere and people are talking about it. What if I lied to him and then he overheard that the man really did die? What would that do to my credibility? What would that do to his trust in me?
My husband and I have tried to find a balance between telling the truth and shielding our children from things they really don’t need to know yet. For example, my son knows there was an earthquake in Haiti and that people lost their lives and homes, and he knows we gave money at church to help the people who live there. He has not seen any of the pictures from the Haitian disaster, because, frankly, as an adult I found the images upsetting and didn’t think it was appropriate for a child to see them.
As Easter approaches, he knows that Jesus died for mankind and that he ascended into Heaven. He does not know that Jesus was crucified.
I try to keep the local news off when both kids are around, because it’s usually filled with bad news. And while all people eventually need to accept that bad things happen, full disclosure is just too much for a 5 year old to wrap his head around. So we’ve chosen to answer truthfully when asked a direct question, but to also not purposely expose our children to stories of violence, dishonesty or tragedy until they are old enough to handle it.
How about you? To what extent do you shelter your children from the grittier aspects of the world, and how do you find a balance between educating them about reality while making sure they still feel secure?