How’s a four-year-old to respond when his grandfather’s facing a tough bout with cancer and his goldfish just died? I good friend and I talked this through recently, including her son asking if she were going to die. Not a first-time conversation any mom eagerly anticipates.
Death has come in discussions with our son in recent months, primarily in relation to Bible stories like David and Goliath and car accidents – mostly in relation to traffic-training that comes with suburban sidewalk play. He doesn’t entirely understand the notion yet, but we’re trying to help him grasp it and give him a biblical framework for it.
If I were in my friend’s shoes, I’d be inclined to say something like this to my son: “God made us and loves us, and He decides the right time for our life to start and when it should end. We can trust God, even though dying is sad and it’s hard for us to say goodbye people we love. And God is our father and loves us the most, and He never dies and will always be there, even when people we love die.” (Perhaps more about heaven and Jesus depending on the child’s comprehension and the specifics.) There’s always comfort in God and his truth, even for toddlers, and to me it seems the healthiest way for kids to learn about tough realities like death is from the mouth of a loving parent, who can help them grasp these issues in age- appropriate ways, planting them squarely within the Christian worldview.
The hardest part may be discerning when they’re ready for it and how much to share. In a recent community-service presentation in my moms’ group, one participant voiced her reluctance to involve her eight-year old daughter in a crisis pregnancy center (by volunteering or fundraising) as her goal is to expose her to positive family dynamics. She didn’t want to fill her daughter’s mind with notions of sex outside of marriage, teen pregnancy, babies without daddies, and the like. I completely saw her point. Then I wondered- what age is right to address such topics? And how can we ensure that we’re the ones introducing these issues and providing context for our kids, rather than other sources?
I see some schizophrenic tendencies in our culture when it comes to informing children. On one hand, society’s got every effort under the sun to grow kids up before their time and expose them to things far too mature (and frankly wayward ) for them – take video games and Bratz dolls as obvious ones. On the other hand, we live in a sanitized, excuse-oriented society that can lead moms to coddle their kids and see them as unready to handle things that could benefit them. A generation ago, for example, kids grew up seeing that meat we comes from animals, and many lived on farms where the butchering of animals was normative. It wasn’t fun but was part of life, and kids grasped the cycle-of-life reality. Today we encounter many who think we’re scarring our kids by letting them absorb this reality from a young age in the household chickens we keep.
How can we keep our kids kids – innocent, secure, age-appropriate, trustful – in a world that would jade them practically from the cradle… and simultaneously give them a Biblical worldview large enough to encompass the things they need to know about life? Hearing it from us, ensuring its godly, arming them with knowledge and truth from their toddler years? I’m not sure there are any easy answers, but I’m thankful that wisdom is available to us as we seek it through prayer and the Word.