Don't Spare Kids the Grim Realities

Friday, 20 Feb 2009 01:54 PM

By Dr. Laura

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With so many scary things happening both close to home and across the globe, it can be difficult for parents to talk to their children and calm their fears.

Children today can’t help but notice the tragedies all around them: fires burning homes, gang violence, murders, store robberies, and on and on. It’s natural for parents to want to protect their children from ugly realities and immerse them in their innocence as long as possible.

But as a licensed psychotherapist, I can tell you that it’s a bad idea to avoid a child’s questions, even when the subject matter brings horror to your own heart.

People frequently ask me how to answer tough questions like, “Why would God let all those homes burn down?”

As children develop their notions of the Divine from whatever house of worship you attend, they tend, with their still immature perspectives, to think of God like a character in a Disney feature film; a powerful genie with a magic carpet, or a wand.

In reality, the best answer goes something like this: “Honey, God did not burn down anybody’s home. God created all the wonderful trees and flowers, and left it up to us to keep them trimmed, make our homes as fire-safe as possible, and not be careless with fire.”

An answer such as this places the responsibility on humans to take care of all their blessings, lest unfortunate, sad, and desperate things happen.

“Dad,” your child may have asked after the Black Friday shopping orgy after Thanksgiving, “Why did those people crush the man in Walmart?”

“Sweetie, sometimes people get so focused on what they want, or what they think they need -- you know, they get greedy -- that they don’t even notice they are hurting other people’s feelings or bodies.”

“Mommy, why are those terrorist people blowing other people up all over the world?”

“My love, there are people who wish to believe that they and their way of living and believing about God is the only way. When people are unable or unwilling to share the world with others’ beliefs -- as long as those beliefs do no harm to others -- this is the sort of ugly thing that they do.”

“Mom, will they come here to get us too?”

“Well, sweetie, it is possible and that is why we have so many police officers all over the world getting information and doing things to stop them. Since 9/11, we’ve been saved by our government staying alert. And, God forbid, should something more happen here, we will have the courage to stand against it.”

It may sound like I’m politicizing some of these issues. I don’t mean to. I’m simply pointing out how parents should handle the questions their children ask.

Don’t hide from the questions. Don’t lie for the sake of a false sense of security. Children need to know -- age appropriately -- the realities of life within the context of something they can hold onto. Only then can they feel safe, or, at least, prepared.

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