How do you explain this to a young child?

April 13, 2003|By Norine Schiller

WE RECEIVED a well-meaning memo from our children's elementary school about how to help children deal with the war news in this scary time.

I applaud the effort. It's a good school, and the people there care about our kids and want us to care about them, too.

But when I read both pages of that memo, nowhere did I see the answers I wanted:

How to explain to your 5-year-old what is happening without scaring the dickens out of him.

How to explain war without glorifying guns and war.

How to explain it without lying and without being disrespectful to a president you don't respect so that your kid won't get beaten up in school by repeating whatever you tell him.

How to explain war without making your children think soldiers are bad people.

How to explain that everything will be OK when they can see pictures that clearly don't look OK.

I have been putting this off, keeping them from seeing the TV, not leaving the paper lying around. But I can't postpone it forever. They still hear the radio, and they are starting to ask questions.

With other difficult topics - sex, for instance - experts usually advise that you answer only the question that a very young child asks as simply as possible and don't volunteer more than he or she wants to know. But it's been my experience that there is no limit to what my children want to know. Once they start on a topic, they are relentless. I can expect these questions, at least:

Are the bombs falling on people's houses? If their houses are broken, will they still be able to sleep in their beds? Won't they get hurt?

Do kids live there?

What about their puppies and kitties? (They will care about this more, perhaps, than about Iraqi children.)

I thought it's not OK to hurt people. Why is it OK for soldiers to hurt people?

During the last presidency, the whiny refrain I kept hearing from parents (admittedly, before I was a parent) was, "How am I going to explain this to my children?"

I couldn't believe the ineptness of these people. I felt it was ridiculous because, for Pete's sake, it was just sex. Just tell them the president was naughty and he's sorry.

Now that I am a parent, I still believe they were whiny and ridiculous. Yet, here I am asking questions about another kind of sin, one that's far more troubling and permanent.

Norine Schiller is a copy editor at The Sun. She lives in Anneslie.

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