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Kids absorb a lot -- especially when we think they aren't listening

November 16, 2000

Kids absorb a lot -- especially when we think they aren't listening

Teaching your Child | By Lisa Tedrick Prejean


"Who's going to be our next president, Mommy?"

My 5-year-old son has been asking that question at least once a day for the last week and a half.

Each day the answer's been the same: "We're not sure yet."

Perhaps I'll be able to give him a different answer tonight or tomorrow.

Election night, he was sure Bush had won. There was so much red on the map, and red was the color used to indicate states that went to the Texas governor.

"There's a lot more red than blue, Mommy," he said.

So I explained that the biggest states don't necessarily have the most people. And it's the people who decide who the president will be.

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Then we discussed the Electoral College and how the number of delegates each state has is basically determined by the number of people living there.

Not the typical conversation a parent expects to have with his or her kindergartner, but it's the curveballs that make this parenting thing so interesting, ya know?

His frustration at not knowing who is going to lead our country has been building as each day passes.

I could sense this, but was totally unprepared for a conversation we had a couple of nights ago.

Preoccupied with some kitchen task, I was half-listening to him share his thoughts on the election that won't end.

"I don't want Al Gore to win," he said.

I asked him why, thinking he would give the same answer he gave prior to election day: Gore's name is funny.

I almost dropped a bowl when he said, "He kills babies."

Taking a seat beside him, I asked, "Hmmm, who told you that?"

"I don't know. But if we have another baby, I don't want Al Gore to take it away from us and kill it."

"Oh, he won't, honey. That would be Mommy's decision, and Mommy would never do that."

So we had a discussion about abortion. What it is. What the law says. How I feel about it. How passionate people on both sides of the issue are.

It's noble to be passionate about what you believe in, I told him.

But it's even more noble to be honest and accurate. Don't assume that something is true just because someone tells you it is. Check it out for yourself. Then, when you have all the facts, make a decision.

Later, as I thought about our conversation, I was angry. Angry that these thoughts were put in my son's head, whether it was on the bus, at the schoolyard or as he listened to adults discussing the topic.

I pondered how a 5-year-old mind could equate a Gore administration to Pharaoh's regime. My son knows the story of Moses. Perhaps, from the comments he heard, he deduced that what happened to the Israelites in ancient Egypt could happen to us in America today.

But why should he have to worry about such things?

As parents, we need to be reminded of how much our kids take in ... especially when we think they aren't listening.

Are we robbing our children of their childhood by discussing issues in front of them that they can't understand?

It's only natural that a child would simplify and/or exaggerate such a complicated issue.

They want life to be concrete, consistent, reliable.

We should do all we can to make it that way - at least for these precious, carefree years that fly by so fast.

All too soon they'll face the bigger issues in life.

A little bit of sheltering now can go a long way in the future. Then, when they're ready to grapple with the tough stuff, we can help them find the answers they seek.

For now, though, I just want him to wonder about which candidates' states are red and which ones are blue.

Lisa Tedrick Prejean is Lifestyle Editor for The Herald-Mail.

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