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Explaining Death, Fear, and the Bad Guys to My Son

Explaining Death, Fear, and the Bad Guys to My SonDeath, fear and the bad guys

As a parent, explaining death, fear, and “the bad guys” was a subject I hoped to avoid for as long as possible. However, while visiting family in England last year, we found ourselves waking up to one awful incident after another. The Manchester Suicide Bomber Attack, the London Bridge/Borough Market Terror Attack, the Finsbury Mosque Attack, and the avoidable Grenfell Tower Fire all happened within weeks of one another in England. 

I’m now become accustomed to checking the news first thing in the morning. It’s a habit that I’m glad to have, but saddened by. But it did make me realize I needed to explain death, fear, and “the bad guys” to my kids without causing them to be afraid on a daily basis. My five-year-old also had a few questions for me about each incident.

“Why did the bad guys do it?”

I had to think about this one for a long time to make it appropriate for my child while answering truthfully. Sometimes, the reason for an attack is revenge. Other times, the “bad guy” in question has a mental illness which goes much deeper than we can see. And then there are the acts of random violence which we cannot explain at all. The best way for me to answer my child at that time was to say, “Whatever the reason behind an attack, it cannot be justified. But we can try to make the world better by learning and spreading love.”

“Who are the bad guys?”

What seemed like an easy question to answer was almost followed with fearful statements to my kids. Statements where they would have questioned the good in people – “The bad guy is the one who hurt innocent people. Who terrorized people. The one who made us cry.” However, saying those words would only instill more fear.

Truthfully, this was a hard question to answer. So I decided at this moment to use my parenting privileges and tell a white lie – “Bad guys exist, but love outweighs hate. And if you stand up for love and what is right, you don’t have to be scared.” I do want my kids to stand up for what’s right and not walk away, as that creates a sense of ignorant bliss. And when we don’t stand up for those who can’t stand up for themselves, we are by default complicit in the wrongdoing. But as a parent, it’s often difficult to remember (or truly believe) that love outweighs hate. However, if we can raise children to have discussions and debates rather than attacking with weapons, then I think we’re headed in the right direction.

So how do we as parents overcome and believe what we tell our kids?

Firstly we need to know there is no right or wrong answer to death, fear, and explaining the bad guys. For my own sanity, I’ve decided I do not want my children to live in fear. They need to know it’s not okay to hate others because they believe in something different. I do want them to spread love. I do want them to be better. So perhaps we take this one day at a time. Start with kindness, which might sound ignorant or feeble, but it all begins there. 

Baby steps.

Get everyone reading. Get them discussing. Talk to your neighbor. Travel further than you might have before. And be kind and mindful. 

“I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.” ~ Martin Luther King Jr

I want them to remember that when bad things happen and we see others in pain, it’s a lesson for us to be better. It’s a reminder for us to not cause pain. There will be times when life doesn’t make sense to our kids. But rather than turn to anger, which is often what the “bad person” wants, we have to take it as a learning opportunity and be the “bigger person”. We have to turn our back on hate and continue to love.

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