How To Tell Kids That Monsters (Like Osama) Are Real

At the end of Brian Stelter‘s New York Times post today about media coverage of the death of Osama bin Laden, there was this tidbit:

One Twitter user in California said her whole family was watching, including her 9-year-old child. ”We’re explaining who Osama bin Laden is,” she wrote. Her child was born several months after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

It was weird enough to realize that the college kids crowding in front of the White House last night were in 4th grade or so on September 2001. But how do you even explain Osama bin Laden to a child? spoke with Dr. Paul Coleman, author of How to Say It to Your Child When Bad Things Happen. Among his tips:

–If you do broach the topic with your kids, keep the message simple. ”Kids are very black and white, without a lot of ability to think abstractly.” says Dr. Coleman. Emphasize that bin Laden was very bad and hurt many people, and that when you hurt other people, you get punished so you can’t keep hurting. You might even give them the relatable analogy of a bully who gets in trouble so he’ll stop picking on other kids.

–If you haven’t discussed the events of 9/11 with your kids already, you’ll have to gauge if now is the right time. Since it happened before they were born, and may feel more historical than real, some kids will be able to handle it. But if your child’s a worrier to begin with, you might want to stick with giving her information on a need-to-know basis.

Over at TheJackB, one dad writes:

Tonight my children learned about Osama Bin Laden. Tonight my children learned about 9/11 and the murder of thousands. Tonight they watched the news of Bin Laden’s death alongside me and I cursed him for it. I cursed Bin Laden for the murder of innocents and innocence. I cursed him for forcing my hand and having to take a piece of their childhood away from them.

Because tonight I confirmed that while there are no monsters under their beds or in the closets there are monsters who walk amongst us. My soon to be 10.5 year-old asked me if we murdered a murderer and whether we have to go kill his kids. My almost seven year-old asked why he was so mean and then told me that she wasn’t afraid because daddy will kill bad people. Her older brother nodded his head and smiled at me as he confirmed that she was correct.

Children probably aren’t ready to learn about Osama bin Laden until they’re in school, and each child will have his or her own hangups you might want to navigate. But they have to learn sooner or later that evil exists. Telling the truth is almost never bad advice as a parent, even when it means confirming the existence of evil in the world. Shielding our kids from reality won’t protect them from the real monsters that walk among us.

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