In the wake of the death of Osama Bin Laden, patriotism has (momentarily) reached new heights—from Ground Zero celebrations to Tennessee fireworks. Sentiments of joy and relief have filled the hearts of many; and, whether it was to congratulate President Obama or take a dig at Osama, most of us have made at least one commemorative comment—likely in front of our children.
As parents we want to protect our kids and shield them from the complex issues that plague the adult world; but, in the age of the internet and endless media coverage, there isn’t much we can hide. Now, it is a matter of properly explaining the what, where, who and whys. The questions are coming, and there are three things to always keep in mind: truth, simplicity and age-appropriateness.
First and foremost, always be honest with your children. Any answer you give them should be founded in truth. In the case of someone like Osama Bin Laden and the 9/11 attacks, they need to know he killed lots of people; they need to know lots of children lost their moms and dads—grandmas, aunts, uncles and best friends. When they can make a connection to the people in their family—people they love—they can empathize with the victims and understand why he was such a bad guy.
Keep it short and simple. Use child-friendly words, like “good guys” and “bad guys.” Work with words you don’t have to explain. Save counter-terrorism, CIA and Al-Qaeda talk for a later date. Also, stay away from any terms that could incite fear, like references to possible retaliation or places your child frequents (school, church, etc.). No gray areas; keep it black and white.
Lastly, be sure to keep it age-appropriate. The older the child the more background information you should provide, because conversations of the like can be used as educational experiences. A four-year-old doesn’t need to know how he was killed; an eight year-old can be told he was shot. Four-year-olds may know what it means to be shot, but it is important they do not associate gun violence with celebrating. The dichotomy is too perplexing and could be detrimentally misinterpreted. Eight year-old children can be told how he was killed, because you can elaborate on the rationale. They can understand that mean people sometimes have to be killed in order to keep nice people safe. However, the maturity levels of children differ at every age. So, it’s up to you to read that gauge and disseminate information accordingly.
Try creating a little song or writing a poem (like the one from The View’s Elisabeth Hasselbeck).
LaShaun Williams is a lifestyle and relationship advice columnist and blogger. Her work has been featured on popular urban sites, such as The Grio, and she has made appearances on the Tom Joyner Morning Show and Santita Jackson Show. She is also the founder of Politically Unapologetic, where she unabashedly discusses pop culture, life and love. Follow @itsmelashaun on Twitter or visit her on Facebook.