I’ve always taken an “honesty is the best policy” approach with my kids. Frog found out how babies were made and born when she was four, for example, when I was pregnant with her little sister. She asked, so I told her, in a way that her young mind could fathom (obviously leaving out some of the more grizzly details). And with big world issues, I try to keep her informed too. When I was going to Sierra Leone with World Vision I explained to my six year old how many children just like her had lost their families because of the Ebola crisis. She took it in her stride and, I think, having this approach not to shield her too much from the world helps to nurture her feelings of empathy and understand how privileged she is.
There’s one area I always hesitate with though, and this is the news. Whenever the news comes on the radio my finger hovers over the “off” switch. What if they’re talking about a murder, or a rape, or some other inevitably senseless act of violence? How do I explain that in a way her almost seven year old mind can understand?
And so, this morning, as I opened the BBC News app on my phone and was confronted by the barbaric and bewilderingly savage attack at the MEN in Manchester, my immediate impulse was to shield it from her. “Why are you crying Mummy?” She asked. I couldn’t get my own thoughts in order, let alone think of a way to phrase it for my kids, so I told a lie. “I’ve got something in my eye,” I responded. An ultimately unbelievable lie and one I know she didn’t buy. Still, Odd Squad was on telly and she seemed content to let it pass.
But now I’m alone in the house, after school and pre-school drop-off, and I can’t help but think of all the families who are coming to terms with unimaginable loss this morning. My mind rewinds to Take That concerts I attended as a tween and I can clearly imagine the excitement and anticipation those concert-goers would have felt this time yesterday, before the show. Discussing what to wear with their friends, listening to Ariane Grande songs on their iPods as they got ready, practising the dance routines they’d do when their favourite tune came on. And I wonder if, by not telling my daughter what happened last night, am I doing the right thing?
I don’t hesitate to tell her about some of the scary things that happen continents away. She knows, in a way that a six year old can know, about Syria, for example. She’s interested in the world and could tell you who Donald Trump is, or why Mummy isn’t a fan of Vladimir Putin. But the Manchester attack is so close to home. It’s where her daddy’s from and her grandparents and uncles and aunties and cousins live. It’s where her mum’s been to Take That concerts. She knows Manchester, it’s not just a place faraway.
Of course bad things happen close to home all the time, which is probably why I’m so confused about how to approach so much of what is on the news. I don’t want to condense these things into an over-simplified “sometimes people do bad things” stock response, because often it’s so much more complicated than that. But I also don’t want to scare her, or risk taking away her beautiful naivety and innocence before she’s ready to understand these things (as much as anyone can understand them).
It’s a tough one, and one which I genuinely don’t have the answer to. How do you approach the news with your kids? Have you explained what happened in Manchester? And, if so, how?