How much reality should we share with our kids?

Mar 1 • Featured • 714 Views • 19 Comments on How much reality should we share with our kids?

There have been so many horrible stories in the news recently I find myself switching channels and quickly folding newspapers every time my offspring enters the room. It’s not just because I’m a Cotton Wool Mum, or that I’m trying to preserve innocence as long as possible (well, maybe a little bit). But it’s also because I feel there’s only so much reality kids can handle, which is probably why they like magical stories so much.

Sometimes, though, there is no escaping reality. In my niece’s first year at secondary school, one of her friends killed herself. There had been no warning signs. Suddenly my niece and her friends who had previously been concerned with nothing deeper than High School Musical were forced to confront serious issues like depression and suicide.

Psychologists advise you should be honest with children old enough to understand if you’re struggling with money – ‘tell them things are a bit tight, but you’ll still have fun,’ advises Christine Webber. But I know some parents who would rather go further and further into debt rather than admit to their kids that they can’t buy them everything they want. I also know couples whose marriages are hanging on by a thread, but they would rather stay together and preserve the illusion of a perfect family – even though their hostility towards each other spills over into their children’s everyday lives.

So, how much reality do you think we should share with our kids?

written by Liz Jarvis

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19 Responses to How much reality should we share with our kids?

  1. Kat says:

    My husband is in Afghanistan and my 6 year old daughter knows he is in Afghanistan. She had no idea what is going on in Afghanistan until about a week ago when I had the news on the TV. She panicked. I had to explain that Daddy is as safe as possible. It is so hard to shelter kids and they do find things out. I guess the best thing to do is to explain things in an age appropriate manner if they express interest or come across something you would rather them not see.

  2. TheMadHouse says:

    Part of the issue is that children are pretty perceptive. Mini was with me when I had to dial 999 for my mum and he is only 3 and a half, but he understood all that was going on. Infact I have taken him to the hospital to show him Gran is getting better. We have found with my surgeries that we explain in their language what is going to happen in a matter of fact way and they are fine. We also tell them about money. They know that Daddy earrns Pennies and that when we run out, we run out or that somethings just cost too many of them for us to have. I do not know what I would do in Kat’s situation though.

  3. amy says:

    If we’re having a bit of tight money month i will tell the girls honestly if i can’t afford to do certain things. I do like to be honest with them and I want them to understand the value of money etc so it prepares them for when they’re older. I change the TV channel if an upsetting story comes on the news because i don’t feel they need to know about everything that this world can bring and I hate the look of worry in 4year old’s eyes when she tries to understand something that is far too old for her to understand. Obviously they will experience death and loss and worry as they get older and i will let them experience these feelings when it concerns people around them becuase we all have to face these issues. But for now i will continue to avoid the bad news the media gives us and let them live in their ‘high school muscial’ for now xxxx

  4. Jay says:

    It’s a tough one. My parents stayed together for much longer than they should have done, but they were brutally honest with me and my siblings about how much they didn’t want t be together, and the unbelievable financial debts they were in. It was too much for me (then 17) and my younger sister (then barely 10) and as a result we all suffered. They also made no efforts to hide the real world from us, in any way, shape or form. Now both my sister and I have been through major depression, mostly as a result of what we grew up with. In hindsight, we believe they should have just split up and not put us through such trauma. If I ever have to go through such a situation with my husband, we’ll explain as best we can, but with an air to protecting their sanity and childhood. Sometimes, there are things youngsters just do not need to know.

  5. carolinesweetie says:

    I am very protective of my 2 boys (3yrs and 9yrs). They don’t get any TV after the watershed at the weekends. No TV in bedroom(9yr old’s constant wish), the computer is in our sitting room. We watch the news and discuss big events(earthquakes etc) but never the smut. Had the stranger-danger discussion with 9yr old which he listened to but initially didn’t take much stock of, I then told him that the 2 girls (Holly and Jessica) were 11yrs old which hit home a bit. It was unpleasant and we repeat it from time to time, but it is necessary. When one of the goldfish died, we told the 9yr old but replaced it so the 3yr old didn’t notice. I suppose age appropriateness is important but sometimes children prompt issues withtheir questions. I feel that if information is given is a rational manner and not in an alarmist way that children can accept things. If they can see that we are distressed/frightened they pick this up and take on our stress. Better to be matter of fact (same with the facts of life,as i am discovering with the 9yr old).

  6. Nickie @ Typecast says:

    I think you have to assess each child’s level of maturity and understanding differently. My youngest child has a much higher understanding of the "real world" than his older sister and brother ever did at his age, but a lot of that is the amount of exposure we have to the media and that fact that we encourage our children to ask questions and be interested in what goes on in other parts of the world.

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  8. Crystal Jigsaw says:

    I would say it depends on the child; if your child is like mine, autistic, then reality is often a very difficult issue to tackle and it is sometimes better for the child to continue believing in their make believe world from the bubble in which they exist. That doesn’t have to mean you are a cotton wool mum. I don’t really have any first hand experience of a neuro-typical child but I would imagine, as a sensible and responsible parent, one would be able to judge how much is too much and hope that common sense prevails. CJ xx

  9. Linda says:

    I agree with Nickie re how different children can be told different things. But on the money thing, if a parent is going further into debt to buy their kids stuff then that is really sad, you can have a lot of fun as kids without money, I should know.

  10. ella says:

    I think matter of fact is best. I am honest with my children but often gloss over the worst details, for instance when my son fell very ill last year, we told all the children what was going on but not all the worst details. And I tell my older children more than my younger children. I think if you pretend everything is ok then children can imagine the worst from the little bits they pick up.

  11. Alison says:

    You’ve beaten me again to a subject I was going to blog about! I try and shield my son (10) from the worst of the news. Particularly that case of the two ‘torture boys’ recently. I didn’t know how to begin to explain that one and don’t want him knowing about such things. But he saw a lot of the Haiti coverage and it did help having a conversation about him being lucky and the inequality in the world and what we could do to help. He knows quite a lot about the credit crunch too. He is always asking me about Afghanistan and I’m hard pressed to answer sometimes about why we are there. Got the beginnings of a debate on my blog about leaving your children alone (shameless plug there.) Would love to hear your view. http://deerbaby.blogspot.com

  12. Lorraine says:

    I try to be as honest as I can with my little boy, bearing in mind his age(he is 3), I will tell him if something he would like is to expensive, he even says it himslef now if he actually does not want something he is offered, and would also tell him the truth in regards to anything unpleaseant (illness or death) that would happen within our family. I beleive that we should be as honest as possible with kids, but at the same time when they are really young there is no need for things to be brought to their attention, however if they ask a question I would always try to answer it truthfully but at their level.

  13. angelsandurchinsblog says:

    We try and be honest, for example, not shying away from explaining what gravestones are in a churchyard. But it’s a scary world out there, and I don’t see the point in letting them know all about its evil ways from when the child is tiny. They’ll find out soon enough, and some graphic news stories are enough to give anyone nightmares. It’s all about introducing them to the world without insulating them from it, all the while knowing you’d do anything to protect them from any horror.

  14. nappyvalleygirl says:

    Littleboy1 has asked about the Chilean earthquake after seeing some pictures in the paper so I explained to him what had happened. I think it wouldn’t be right to try and pretend there are no bad things in the world. Having said that, I wasn’t happy when the 6pm news here showed a clip of the Georgian luger having his fatal accident – the boys saw it and were asking if he was OK. I don’t think they needed to see that, and I just told them that he had hurt himself, and left it at that.

  15. Emily O says:

    My children are still so little that I shield them from most things. Once my four year old saw gunfire in Afghanistan on the news and I turned it over. Even though his uncle has served in Afghanistan. He doesn’t need to know about these things yet. I’m not sure how we’ll manage it as the children get older, I guess you need to strike a balance between telling them the world isn’t always a lovely place and not scaring them. The second part of your last paragraph describes my family perfectly when I was growing up! Lol! (well we can sort of laugh about it now anyway *cough*).

  16. Karen Kirk says:

    My children are 20, 16, 10, 9 and 7 we watch BBC Breakfast or News 24 in the morning and always watch Five news just before Neighbours then BBC 1 News after! My three youngest probably know more about what is going on in the world than my 16 year old whose head is full of make up, boys and music!

  17. supersinglemum says:

    I am as honest as I feel appropriate with my girls. I don’t turn off the news and if my eldest (7) is old enough to ask, she is old enough for the answer – I just have to judge how to word the answer so its appropriate for her level of understanding. She went through me and her Dad splitting up when she was just 5 and grew up very fast in the sense of realising that grown ups fall out sometimes. The only thing I am wary about is the big sex subject – especially when she told Grandma that she knows what lesbians are and actually, she did! We can’t protect them from the word orever, so I figure rather than hide it all, let hr find things out in her own time, but be there to answer appropriatly when the q’s are asked. Her Dad is in Afghan at the mo, and she made comment watching the news one night as to whether dady is dead yet! However, I don’t think it would have been right to hide it from her. Its also important to remember what we see as adults is not how kids see things – look at Shrek!!!

  18. Karen @ If I Could Escape says:

    I’ve always found with my boys that they have their own built-in filtering system designed to cut out when they’ve heard enough. I don’t think it’s necessary for them to know of ll the family dramas that ensue in out lives, but as they get older, I think it’s important for them to know what’s going on in the world. I tell them little pieces of the big story and wait to see how much they really want to hear. I rarely let them actually watch the news over here though as it’s so sensationalized over here in the USA. I prefer for them to read it online or watch the good ole Beeb.

  19. Tattie Weasle says:

    Keeping it honest and keeping it straight forward – not sure I manage desperately well. We’ve done the death bit and done the never talk to stranger bit but not told either of them why the should not. It is all about how much you feel they can cope…bound to get it wrong though!

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