Molly participated in a ski-a-thon a week or so ago to raise money for Special Olympics. At 6, she was mostly excited about another opportunity to ski with her friends.
I would also like supporting others and “doing good” to excite her. So, we spent time talking about how the ski-a-thon would be different from her usual outings. We talked about what Special Olympics does for participants, for volunteers, and for the entire community. We practiced her answers for when she called friends and family to ask for sponsorship. She made those calls and asked for support.
My husband and I try to always tell our kids the truth. We really don’t sugar coat things.
So far, that approach has worked. Our kids respond to our honesty, especially when we admit we don’t know or understand something. Usually, they just encourage us to look it up (I heart you internet!), which we gladly do. Then we all learn together. I love homeschooling because much of our learning happens this way! (Did I just admit how little I know?)
That honesty, obviously, can also make for the occasional difficult conversation. The idea that people come in all shapes and sizes and colors and religions and abilities is an accepted fact in our house. We try to treat others as we are treated and to take each relationship as it comes. Our differences usually result in fun and interesting topics of conversation, especially because children don’t bring any hang-ups about this stuff to the table.
Talking about how unjustly and unfairly others are treated because of differences presents more of a challenge. While tackling “intellectual disability” in preparation for the fundraiser, we searched around for a video from Special Olympics and came upon this:
which I knew my kids would love because they are really into skeletons right now. Cool concept. See the athlete first, before you see any disability. However, the video didn’t quite get the job done, as my kids did not notice anything different about the actor in the commercial. They kept asking, “before I see what?”
So, at their tender ages, do I really want to point out the exact mechanisms of human cruelty? Do I want to emphasize that humans can, by natural inclination, be really mean to someone else just because they look a little different or have a more limited mental capacity than them?
As I thought about how to explain it, we spotted this link at the end of the first video and the kids wanted to click on it.
Molly loved the fact that Susie destroyed her fears literally by smashing them with the golf ball. But still, neither kid had any idea what was “different” about her or why she had so many fears. Moreover, they could not conceive of why someone else would treat her badly because of that difference. They just don’t view the world like that. And my kids have the luxury of being mostly free of those kinds of fears.
I asked them if they remembered when we talked about Martin Luther King, Jr. And how we learned about how African Americans have been treated differently, and more specifically, very, very badly, because of their skin color. I explained that similar things have happened and are happening for other groups. Those that participate in Special Olympics have sometimes been treated poorly because of how they look or act.
My kids were baffled by this, which at this point I’ll consider a very good thing. But I would like to provide a gradual introduction to the rougher side of human nature.
How do you tell your kids the truth without sharing too much of the ugliness of the world? Or do you omit parts of the story, instead saving them for when they are older? Or is there another option?