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Moms Talk Q&A: How Do You Talk To Kids About The Celebrating Of A Murder?

Kids are exposed to world events, too – how do you explain the complicated ramifications of the killing of a terrorist?

On Monday morning during breakfast, the radio was on in the kitchen. I wasn’t paying attention to the broadcast, as I was too busy pouring cereal, making sandwiches, packing backpacks and mulling over whether or not jeggings make acceptable work pants.

But my 6-year-old was all-ears:

“Why did they just say people are celebrating in the streets because someone was killed?”

Earlier that morning, in bed with my iPhone (we’re just friends), I had read that Osama bin Laden had been killed by a U.S. special opps team in a firefight in Pakistan—and upon hearing the news, Americans had gathered spontaneously in front of the White House and in cities across the nation to rejoice in the al-Qaeda leader’s death.

And while I’m certainly not sad that he’s dead, all the beer-soaked outpouring of joy over bin Laden’s demise makes me, well, uneasy. Trying to explain it to a 6-year-old makes me particularly uneasy. After all, this is a kid who hears “stop shooting your brother!” about 1,775 times a day (what is it with boys and guns, and boys who make pretend guns out of every blessed thing?).

How do I explain real-life (or bigger than life) issues of revenge, war, justice and terrorism—when the adults in his life are constantly preaching “hugs, not hits,” “use your words” and “two wrongs don’t make a right”?

And how do I explain all of this before I’ve had my first cup of coffee?

Well, I didn’t. I panicked, told him we’d talk later and distracted him with the latest LEGO Club newsletter. But I know this kid, and the topic will come up again. Let’s hope this time I can take advantage of a teachable moment (a phrase, incidentally, that’s right up there with “use your inside voice” in the things-I-never-thought-I’d-say category).

I thought this advice from family therapist Jennifer Korgan, who was quoted in a Washington Post blog post on the subject, was interesting:

“Try not to worry that talking about violence will make a child fearful. Kids as young as 4 know about violent acts, but all children need help voicing their concerns. An important point: Talking about a violent act will not increase a child’s fear. Keeping feelings inside and not expressing them is much more harmful than talking about something violent.”

Kathleen Surdan May 04, 2011 at 08:06 PM
I will put my child therapist hat on and say this: There are ways to explain this event to kids that will make sense to them and not make you feel like you are condoning violence. One is that people are celebrating because this evil man has been stopped from plotting additional terrorist attacks aimed at killing more innocent people. If you believe it, tell them that there would have been just as much dancing in the streets if he had been simply captured vs. killed. Tell them that two of our presidents ordered some brave servicemen to find this man no matter how long it took in order to protect all of us. It's all true, right? The goal is to re-frame these types of things for our kids.
Sarah Corbett May 05, 2011 at 01:57 AM
That's great advice, Kathleen (and I'll use it) ... thank you!

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