Tell The Truth

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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?

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4 thoughts on “Tell The Truth”

  1. This is something that I frequently struggle with. On the one hand, I don’t really want to traumatize my kids, or give them fears that they’re not ready to cope with. But, I recognize that they are going to need information that I wish I didn’t have to give them. Personal safety is a good example – I don’t want to terrify my children, but they need to understand how deadly serious it is that they hold my hand in a parking lot, but when we talk about it I get a lot of questions about death and dying and ‘why would someone drive on me?’

    We don’t have a TV, and I make an effort to avoid listening to the radio when I know that the news is going to be on. I feel as if the media distorts a lot of the news it reports, and consuming it can lead people to believe the world is much worse than it really is. I don’t really like to hear dire news constantly myself, and I don’t want to explain what ‘rape’ means to my 5-year-old, and so we avoid places where she’s likely to encounter words like that. But in our daily life we encounter difficult subjects, and I do address them. For now, it’s OK, but I don’t know where we will be in a few more years, I expect it to change again.

  2. You’re right on with your post. I have felt like a wimp since I can’t watch horror movies and many action movies are disturbing. The reality of life that is shown on the news and in movies is hard for me.

    But a friend on Facebook posted this: “Our minds, emotions, and bodies were never meant to be assaulted with as much bad news and tragedy as they are these days. We need to proactively and intentionally do what we can to bring our souls and bodies into peaceful harmony. What works for you?”

    Her statement encouraged me to guard myself and to allow myself the time and thought to process the pain and suffering I encounter. As my child encounters pain, I imagine we’ll have several discussions.

    We don’t go untouched in life by the suffering and loss of others. But we can give ourselves the freedom to process it.

  3. I was recently in Houston, and the local news was shocking… in one story police fired guns into a doughnut shop, and the newscasters seemed to laugh about it. They sensationalized they story instead of scandalizing it, and I felt sick, like the trashiest people they could find were hosting the news. Of course, I turned it off, as that is one way I have found to keep it out of my life.
    I think it is important to remember we are post-9/11, and consequently, many people are actually numb. We adults have lived through some horrific times that our kids have not. So, while it is important to be honest with your kids, don’t forget to demonstrate compassion for how other people may be expressing grief or trauma, especially because it is difficult. When your child sees something that offends you, it is appropriate to tell them that your values are different than the values expressed by XYZ media. You can model compassion by forgiving XYZ media for the poor taste and thoughtlessness they demonstrate by showing plane crashes on TV. The bible tells us that if we put our faith in people, we will always be disappointed, but to instead have faith in God. When we end difficult discussions with prayer, it reminds us to have faith, and to place things in God’s hands. Praying with your kids for families effected by tragedy lets your kids know there is always something they can do.

  4. I think it is a normal thing for kids that age to become obsessed with death. I know that at 3 or 4 years old my son didn’t really understand that death was final. Now, at 5, he does and he has lots of questions and talks about it a lot. The uncertainty of it is difficult for him I think and he tries to attach absolutes to things you cannot attach them to. For example, he has a list of activities in his head that will lead to sure death. He has a list of who is going to die in what order based on their age. He doesn’t seem to understand that we don’t always know when we will die, because he told my husband and I that the day before we die, we should take him and his sister to someone else’s house because he isn’t big enough to take care of her by himself.

    In terms of what we’ll expose them to, no topic is off limits. If he has questions, I answer them to the best of my ability and do so truthfully, without going into more detail than he asks for. I have shown him still images of Haiti (from the newspaper) after I had looked at them myself and was prepared to discuss them, but have not shown them TV footage because I think it is that much more graphic and moves by that much faster and has that much greater an impact.

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