Written By: Kathy Glow @ Kissing the Frog
I distinctly remember the first time Barack Obama was elected president. It was before Joey, almost five at the time, was sick. Still incredibly curious about everything, he asked me why everyone was so excited about this man on television.
I explained to him that this man was elected the next president of the United States – a big deal in itself, but that he was also the first African American man elected as president. I said that last part with a bit of hesitation because I was not quite ready to introduce the issue of race to my children. Or more specifically, the issue of what race means in our country.
Luckily for me at the time, he was more interested in saying President Obama’s name over and over because he liked the way it sounded (think of The Lion King when the hyenas kept saying, “Mufasa . . .ooo, do it again!”).
When my children were young, I avoided all controversial topics like the plague – race, death, and sex were the biggies that made me shudder.
And then, all of a sudden, one of the biggies was staring us in the face every day, and it couldn’t be avoided.
We never told the boys that Joey would die from his cancer. We said, “The doctors are trying everything they can to make Joey better,” which was not a lie.
It just wasn’t really the truth either.
Life is hard. And the older you get, the harder it gets. I am not going to be able to avoid the hard subjects much longer as my boys are getting older. I have to start meeting them head on, especially if I want to raise good, kind, well-adjusted young men.
One of the hardest things to talk about with kids is death. When Joey was sick, my husband consulted with a family therapist who specialized in death and dying. She advised us to avoid telling the boys that Joey “went to sleep,” that we “lost” Joey, or even that he “passed away.” We were to tell them the facts: Joey’s body stopped working, and he died.
Parents.com agrees. When talking to children about death, it’s best to keep answers as short and simple as possible: “Grandma can no longer think or move or breathe, but her love will stay with us in our hearts forever.”
The therapist recommended a book called The Fall of Freddie the Leaf that equated death to the changing of the seasons. He started reading it to the boys in the months leading up to Joey’s death; and whether it was the book or the realization that he was not getting any better, they handled his death as well as expected.
Another tough topic is anything surrounding S-E-X. Ooo, that one makes me shudder. We have always used correct anatomical terminology for the boys’ parts, but when they started asking me about my parts and how the baby got in my tummy or how it was going to get out, I wanted to run and hide.
I would just mumble something about God helping Mommy and Daddy put it there and the doctor helping Mommy get it out, and then I would quickly change the subject.
Wrong! According to Talk with Kids.org, which gives 10 tips for talking to kids about tough issues, parents should start early and initiate conversations. Kids are going to hear things from friends and media. It’s best that parents, as uncomfortable as it may make us, bring it up with our children so that the explanation includes our morals, values, and beliefs.
And depending on the age of the child, a simple answer may suffice. When your child asks you a question about sex, HIV, drugs, or gangs for example, answer his question with a question. Then you have a sense of his level of understanding and can adjust your explanations to fit.
Race is an issue I have had to tackle recently. On our trip to California, a woman with a heavy foreign accent helped us at the gift shop at Legoland. Out of the blue, my five year old said to her, “I speak English and you don’t.” I was beyond mortified!
We live and go to school in a fairly non-diverse community. The only people my children encounter with accents are on television, and unfortunately it’s mostly presented in a comedic way (damn you, Nickelodian).
As children get older, it is natural to notice differences in a person’s skin color, hair, eyes, and speech. Baby Center.com agrees that it is best to talk with kids early and often about race. When they hear something that could be perceived as bigoted, your silence about the topic could be interpreted as acceptance. Discourage labeling people as black or white because your child might pick up on this habit, too.
One suggestion made was to expose your children to people of all races and cultures. Even if you don’t live in a culturally diverse society, you can read books featuring people of all races, take your child to events where she can be exposed to all different types of people, or take an ethnic dance or art class.
As my children get older, I know they are going to have more and more tough questions for me. As much as the tough talks make me squirm, I know I am going to have to face them sooner rather than later.
But the more honest I can be with them and show them I am open to talking with them, the more they will feel safe and comfortable coming to me with any question or concern – even about the biggies!