Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Totally Awkward Tuesday: Awkward Topic of Conversation

Note to Self: Do Not Attempt to Explain the Nazis To Your Children While PMS-ing. Tears will inevitable fall....

I found myself recently, while driving some distance with the kids, somewhat blindsided by my son CC's sudden interest in who the Nazi's were. (The curiosity was brought on by watching Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark.) The conversation quickly went from... "The Nazis were evil." -Why were they evil, Mom? What did they do?- "Well, they believed some pretty terrible things and felt like they needed to take over all of Europe." -What does that mean?- "Have you heard of WWII at school?" - Yes.- "Okay, well, the Nazis thought that this whole group of people didn't have the right to live. So they started to kill all of them." -Why would they do that?- "I don't know. They were crazy." -Who did they kill?- "They killed millions of ...." And my voice cracks and I stop talking because the tears are welling up in my eyes.

How can a 9 y.o. comprehend this sort of thing when I can't comprehend the enormity of it?? My European history is pretty abysmal, as well, so I can't give him a strictly intellectual response to his queries (is there a strictly intellectual response when talking of Nazis and the persecution of Jews??). I only have an emotional response. Exacerbated by a flood of PMS hormones. I can only think of CC's best friend, who is Jewish, and how I don't want to tell my little boy anything about the Nazis. How I don't want him to know that there are people out there that are that evil. And my mind runs away with all the horrible images that a lifetime of movies, books, and NY Times articles can conjure.

And I tell him, "They were were bad, bad people. You will learn more about them in school when you are older." And wipe away the tears and wonder how in the world such an event ever occured in the first place. And how is it that Israel is still so embattled. And how can people still be so hateful. And did PMS really have anything to do with how difficult this conversation was?

So, I am wondering... How do other parents treat these delicate subjects with the under-11 set? I don't want to have a policy of not telling our kids about life's tragic events. But I would hate to give my children more knowledge than they are ready for, so their vision might be skewed by knowing that people can be terrible while not having a fully developed sense of empathy or sympathy. Do other parents wait until school or movies introduce the topic and then answer the inevitable questions that will come?

AMMENDED: In full disclosure, I went back and changed the title of this post, as I had forgotten about Totally Awkward Tuesday that I have lifted from the radiant Ann of Ann's Rants, who got there by way of Tovah. Check out both of their sites to read more.


  1. My eleven year old came home from the book fair yesterday with The Boy Who Dared - a novel based on the true story of a Hitler youth....I may be having the same conversation soon! UGH

  2. Oh, wow, yeah... that would definitely be difficult to explain to a child. My nephew was 3 and a half when 9/11 happened, and he kept asking "Mommy, why are you going like this - *sniff sniff sniff*?" My sister really struggled with how to explain to him why "bad men" would fly planes into a building on purpose.

  3. It's impossible to explain, but so important. I have absolutely no doubt that in a generation or so, Holocaust deniers will grow in numbers tremendously, as we lose the survivors.

  4. WOW! No kids here, but I can totally see how it would be awkward to try to explain such huge issues to them when they haven't developed all those empathy skills yet. I don't know if I'd wait, though, until it came up elsewhere...but I'm more of a "prevention avoids intervention" type of person. Accck!

    P.S. Nope, not PMS. I don't get PMS (knock on wood), but I'd be bawling about that sort of thing too.

  5. April: Did you immediately leaf through the book to see what exactly it was about? If he brought it home then he must be ready to have the conversation, right?

    Tova: THAT is a whole other issue! We don't watch the news with the kids now b/c I don't want them to see the fighting and think it is just more Batman or "TV-show" violence.... what a distinction to have to make. Sigh. I'm not sure if there is any age that could prepare a person for the horror of watching the towers falling on CNN.

    Marinka: That is a such a scary thought. But in a world that still harbors Creationists and fundamentalist crack-pots, you are absolutely right. :(

    Sassy: I think you're right. And I certainly wouldn't want someone else's ideas (like another child's who is repeating what his parents' said) to be his first impression of the Holocaust.

    Thank you for the thoughts, ladies. It is definitely helping me think through this.

  6. I've tried to explain war to my daughter.. and they just don't get it. I wish we could all stay that way... don't you?

  7. I gotta admit, Amy, I got nothin' there. Totally out of my scope of ... well anything!

  8. I never had to discuss this topic with the real young one's, but my teenager and I had a conversation about this last year (She takes a huge interest in this time period) and I explained it as basically a form of predjudice-ness, if you will.
    Mine are different though, they've grown up faster than they had to and have a real sense of world issues primarily b/c they have to send thier father to war multiple times.
    I think you handled it well! I love you blogs!

  9. My son (10) knows about the Holocaust because his granddad -- my dad -- went through it. I just tell my kids the truth, and it hurts a lot, but I think they should know. I don't think I'm wrong in thinking that...Am I?

  10. Well, that was kind of awkward. How do you expect a child to understand, when nobody understands?

  11. Kel: I feel like my 9 y.o. still doesn't get it... every time "war" comes up on the radio or in conversation he has forgotten that we are in one with Iraq.

    SweetPea: Lucky you! For now.... :)

    Twisted: That is sobering for kids and adds a whole new appreciation for war and how it affects families. I think that is a good thing that you keep them in step with everything that is happening with him. That is the other side of my thought process here: Am I shielding my kids too much by NOT discussing this openly and frankly with them.

    Mary Moore: And that is why your kids will probably be more empathetic and understanding than other ones when it comes to this. They will have had a lifetime to absorb the lasting effects of the Holocaust and keep the memory alive when and if (as Marinka fears) more Holocaust-denial starts happening. My heart goes out to your family and thank God your dad made it through. I think I would feel more secure telling my kids if it was "Our Story" if that makes sense. I don't know if it political-correct-ness gone awry or what. :(

    Morgan: I couldn't agree more. *_*

  12. You do it just as you did, honey. :-) It's absolutely right that the kids see how things affect Mom. As he gets older, we hope he asks more questions. In the meantime, The Diary of Anne Frank is an excellent way for him to see the day-to-day affect that the Nazis had on Europe. There will be time for the details and the full realization of the scope of events as he ages...

  13. I like what Pearl said. I think its a good opportunity to talk about "scape goats" because that is something he could apply to his life. How one man grossly misused his power to convince people that all their problems were someone else's fault. Perhaps that's one small way to begin to discuss the "why" but no satisfactory answer will ever exist. Wonderful post, Amy.

  14. LOVE IT, as always!

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  15. I agree absolutely with Pearl. My children are in their early 20s now but I still remember some of those conversations. It's OK for you to say that some people are evil and the rest of us really just don't understand why. It's so heartbreaking to think of "evil" and "our children" in the same sentence -- I think that's where a lot of our maternal emotion comes from when we face these questions.

  16. It is good you are talking and explaining. The hardest part of being a parent is not answering the tough questions, it is getting your children to ask the tough questions. Sounds like you are doing a great job!

  17. As a child I remember that I could read on newspaper or see on tv a lot of "bad thing" and I knew that some people were evil.
    But my mum didn't want to explain to me why..and I would look for answer in the library or in history books..
    I suppose that when a child ask, is good to answer in few words,the truth..

  18. That is a tough conversation :(

  19. Your tears were probably the best answer. Teach him empathy.

  20. Well, I certainly don't want my son to learn things first from movies.

    At home...with parents...is the best way to learn anything.

    When there are delicate topics that come up, I sit down and I talk to my son about them. I think that children learn more from how they see us feel or how they feel what we feel, than from the words that we say. So I adjust my mood and emotions depending upon the topic to be discussed.

    I understand how you are thinking that sometimes children are just too young to know some things. But that's before they start school. When they start going to school, the environment there starts throwing things at them (things they hear from teachers, friends, older students) and so it is important to keep in mind that it's best for them to hear these explanations first from us, than from the influences of other peoples' values and beliefs.


  21. Amy,

    Preview the movie Paperclips http://www.paperclipsmovie.com/synopsis.php
    Maybe it is something you and your son could watch together. Perhaps it could help him understand the magnitude without having to see the horror of it all. I don't believe there is anything graphic. It has been awhile since I've watched it.
    It is really hard talking about these issues, because you never know how kids are going to process it.

  22. I don't think I could ever explain it to my kids either... As adults we have a hard time wondering why they could 'do' such a thing...let alone explaining it to kids!

  23. Another Pearl of wisdom from our friend in Minnesota. Thanks!

    Really, I want to go through and comment individually to each of you, but fear that I will repeat myself too much. I'd like to say to all of you-- thank you so much for the thoughtful replies that have really helped me figure out what the best steps for us will be when this topic comes up again.

    Thank you for sharing your personal experiences most of all! I am in awe of the intelligence, love and care that has gone into each of your responses. I am so humbled.

  24. My daughter's 6th grade teacher showed part of Life is Beautiful to the class, which happens to be one of my favorite movies. Daughter asked to me to rent the movie so she could see the rest of it. My 8-year old was on the sofa playing with his DS, but little by little he began to watch the movie. Well, he balled his head off at the end. "How can that be your favorite movie?" he sobbed. "They killed the guy."

    I realized he had never seen a movie where the main character gets killed.

    I don't regret showing it to him, but I think I should have prepared him.

    As for Teen, The Pianist and Saving Private Ryan is required watching in our household.

  25. my father lost all but one of his aunts and uncles in the Holocaust. he never speaks about it, ever.

    I think telling him they were bad people and keeping it simple and brief is the best way. I try and change the subject if after I've given my kid info and she wants more and I think at that point I am crossing into territory that would be better to be spoken of when she is older

  26. My Oldest (6) is just entering the age of explanation, so this post and these comments are so great to learn from.

    MLK Day and the Obama Inauguration was our first "real" chat about the whys and the reasons. It's difficult for him to understand why it's such a big deal (his god father is African American - different races and cultures are just typical to him), and I rather like him being in the bubble, for now.

    But I know it's not realistic.

  27. I haven't had this particular conversation with my 9 year old but I recently did have an impromptu menstration discussion that was instigated by our conversation about the utter grossness of babies and how they poop in their diapers. I made one of my famous side comments about how being an adult is gross at times which was followed by the obligatory "Why?".

    I took the use few words and be honest route. I think that as adults we just use far too many words with kids especially when it comes to difficult topics.

    Good work.


Thoughts appreciated. Advice welcome. Douche-baggery scoffed at then deleted.