Explaining Complex Topics to Kids
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Explaining Complex Topics to Kids
I am looking for recommendations of books about children with Down Syndrome that
are targeted at typically developing K+ children to increase understanding and
support healthy relationships in our community. Thanks.
I really liked the picture book ''How Smudge Came'' by Nan Gregory.
Here's a synopsis: Cindy, who lives in a group home and works all day at
Hospice House, fights to keep the small stray dog she finds on the
street. The thing I liked about it was that her disability and her living
situation were presented very matter-of-factly, as backdrop to the story.
I couldn't remember the name of the book, but tracked it down via a
Google search that turned up this website:
http://www.elmhurstpubliclibrary.org/Kids/SpecialNeedsChildrensBooklist.php, which has a section with 9 titles for Down Syndrome.
Hello wise parents...I am looking for some advice on how to
explain down syndrome and autism to a five year old (and a three
year old, if possible). Every year, we vacation with an adult
with down syndrome AND our new next door neighbor has a slightly
older child with autism. My elder daughter is asking questions
and I am searching for a way to explain the special circumstances
for each person.
My elder daughter worships our friend with down syndrome (she is
the only one who will show her how to bait the cradad traps at
Tahoe), but is having a hard time understanding the combination
of her adultness (obvious age, has a job, etc) and her childness
(messy eating, poor reader, etc). My younger child is a bit
scared of her...bothered by her different-ness or that the woman
complains about her loudness. I just try to explain that
screaming bothers her (and it does...more than non-down syndrome
There hasn't been any curiosity expressed yet re: our new
neighbor who is autistic, but I am sure that it will come soon.
My elder daughter spent a few hours with him and a sibling last
weekend -- the three of them watching a movie while I volunteered
down the hall. He doesn't speak, but his parents tell me that he
understands perfectly. He does grunt and make other noises, but
I am not sure that those would stand out to my daughter as a few
of her friends have speech difficulties.
So the question is...how do explain to her what makes these
children different, but special. I tried to explain 'down
syndrome' to her as something that happened before our friend was
born that makes things more challenging for her like reading and
writing (current interests of my child) and that she is special
because she is such a hard worker and overcomes these challenges.
But, I fell like my explanation falls short.
Does anyone have a good explanation to help her understand (and
even my younger daughter) the amazing gifts these friends make to
their families and those who get to spend time with them? And, I
do not mean that in a condescending way. I truly love my
friend's sister with down syndrome and as I get to know my
autistic neighbor's mother, I hope that she will understand that
I could not care less if he is wandering around my house while we
are sitting in the living room or making noises that don't fall
within the realm of normal.
Thank you for your thoughtful question! I have 4 kids and my
second child, darling daugther, has Down syndrome so i'll tell
you how i explained it to my son when he was around your
child's age. He obviously knows lots of kids with Ds as well
as autism and cp and other special needs. We just always
talked about differences in people and Ds is something
somepeople are born with and affects the way they look -
shorter, little ears and nose, beautiful eyes :-) and the way
they learn etc. I tend to explain autism more on an individual
basis but generally explain that somepeople are sensitive to
noise, some to crowds, or textures. It's important to be open
to all their questions and also I tend to watch myself from
over explaining stuff. We also are pro-people first language
so its a woman with Downs syndrome instead of a Downs woman
(maybe nitpicky sorry :-)
I really like all of Todd Parr's books but especially the ''It's
Okay to Be Different'' book and it has always been a good
conversation starter with my kids including my daughter with Ds!
The best explanation is the simplest: there are many kinds of
people in the world, and they all deserve respect. Down syndrome
and autism are not ''special''; they are just normal human variations.
I recently started dating a woman whose sister was murdered in
the most horrific way possible 30 years ago at the age of 11. My
7 yo daughter has seen pictures of this sister, and has heard my
girlfriend mention her, so she knows she existed. She recently
asked more about her, and we told her she was dead, and then she
asked more about it, naturally. We basically said that she had
been killed and that it was sad. But I definitely don't want to
go into any more detail than that. Does anyone have any
suggestions for a good way to talk about this? I know we are not
done with this topic.
I'm not a therapist or a specialist in this area. And perhaps the
best advice would be to speak with one. But I wanted to share a
perspective I'll never forget from my own childhood... when I was
between the ages of about 8 and 12, ''stranger danger'' was in
vogue as a way to make children aware of kidnappers. I knew and
was vigilant in hearing stories of children my age being
kidnapped, was told not to trust strangers, etc. From an adult
perspective, I understand the tactic. As a child, however, this
''awareness'' translated to my absolute certainty that I would be
kidnapped. I was afraid, had nightmares, and dug out a hiding
place behind a foil of toys under my bed so if someone came into
the house I'd be safe.
My point is, no matter how you explain violence done to children
to a child, she's likely to internalize it as something that can
- or even will - happen to her. And while the cautionary tale
(don't get in that car, etc) is a good one, the fear it instills
can be quite distracting to a happy childhood.
I don't have advice about what exactly to say, but simply to
reinforce that mindfulness will be paramount. And of course I
applaud your asking advice before plunging in. Maybe a local
child psychologist can offer more.
First of all, I am so sorry for your girlfriend’s loss. I do not
have experience with this myself, but it does seem that one
possible angle is to emphasize who the sister was as a person,
rather than focusing at all on the manner in which she died. Of
course you are asking this question because you obviously don’t
want to traumatize your seven year old. Is it possible to talk
about the sister who passed away in terms of what she was like
and how much her sister misses her, in order to a) have your
daughter be aware of the deceased sister as she would an ancestor
who had died, or any other family member who had died before she
had a chance to know them and b) to create empathy for your
girlfriend and her loss.
Also, I wonder if seeking the input of a professional who
specializes in talking to children about death would be a good idea?
I have no professional knowledge about this whatsoever but it
does seem to me that it would be important to not discuss the
details of the murder until she is much much older – maybe 17?
I hope this is not indelicate or inappropriate of me to say this,
but I believe that I may know the murder to which you are
referring. In 1978 I was a 9 year old living in Moraga, and an 11
year old girl from the community was murdered. I was in the same
class as a girl that I think was the cousin of the murder victim.
I never ever forgot about the murder, and when the case was
solved a few years ago, I was so relieved for the family. If
this is the same case, I just want you to know that there are
many of us out here who continued to care for all these years.
She was not forgotten.
I wish you the very best with this situation.
I have strong feelings about your post because in all my years of
teaching I've seen many kids robbed of their chance to be kids
and feel safe in the world because parents feel it's their job to
teach them about the ''real world.'' Our kids are going to be
familiar with all the horrible stuff that goes on (even to people
in our own families, my condolences to yours) soon enough. It may
be a bit protective but I plan on being rather vague when it
comes to things like this with my son, until he's got more years
and more awareness.
My 3.5 year old daughter has suddenly started asking the really
big questions: how did I get in Mommy's tummy? How did I get out
of Mommy's tummy? Who made us? What are we made of? Will Mommy
die? (This was after watching Charlotte's Web.) Who is Jesus?
Who is God?
I'm not so much concerned with how to answer those questions,
though suggestions on how to handle them, how detailed to get,
are certainly welcome. I'm more interested in know whether
others have gotten these questions by such a young child. She is
a very inquisitive child and she's very serious about getting
Mommy of the inquisitor
I can relate! My 3.5-year-old is also an ''inquisitor'' and I was
smiling while reading both your posting and the one about
the 3.5-year-old asking about safety and ''bad people.'' My
daughter started with Phase I of these questions about a
year ago and they have only gotten harder! She has had
several lengthy rounds of questions about conception and
childbirth-- how do babies get out, how do they get in, where
do the ''seed parts'' come from in us and how do they get
made, is the reason Mommy isn't going to make another
baby right now because she or Daddy ran out of ''the seed
parts,'' and my favorite ''What happens when the mommy
seed part doesn't get the seed part from the Daddy? Does
it just all come out like ooky stuff?'' She wants to know
about God, about Saints (from the song ''When the Saints
come marching in'') about ''bad people'', about why we lock
our doors, about why people are bad and whether or not
they can learn to be good. She went through a long phase
of questions about death that started more than a year ago
when a neighbor's cat died and still talks about it pretty
regularly, often looking for assurance that I would love her
even if she died (!!) She once spent an entire dinner
questioning her grandparents about when they would die
(''Will you die here or in your house or in the hospital?'') She
wants to know where electricity comes from and if it is like
the energy she gets from eating healthy food, how do
lightbulbs work, how does a blue shirt get blue, why do
trees lose their leaves, and on and on and on. Big
questions and small, she has stumped me more than
once! I think it is a normal part of being a preschooler. It's
pretty amazing, isn't it?
Oh, I can so relate!!! I have a 4.5 year old who has been asking all of
those big questions for over a year now. We have had lots and lots of
such discussions -- I particularly remember one very big-deal
epistomological discussion at 1:00 in the morning (when I was totally
cross-eyed, and he was crying about the ''Will Mommy die?'' and ''Will I
die?'' questions); and another long series of discussions about Jesus
dying, when my boy caught sight of a (rather graphic) painting at the
back of our church.
The things I might recommend are below (obviously, you need to match
these up with your particular belief system -- I'm just sharing what
worked for us as examples):
(1) don't get overly detailed, but do be extremely consistent -- what has
worked for my son about the ''Why do people die?'' type questions has
been the reply (over and over, I might add) that usually people die when
they are very old, or if they get very sick. The question was asked many
times, and he seemed to want that same answer over and over (at least,
it seemed to satisfy him, where another answer would not).
(2) try to find a concrete analogy that works. For my son, one of the most
upsetting notions about dying was that he would die before me, and
would go to heaven without me, which he found very troubling. What
worked there was to tell him that heaven was like preschool: if he went
there before me, he would hang out with lots of people to play with, and
God to take care of him like a preschool teacher does, and that after
awhile I would come. He likes and understands preschool, so this really
made him feel better.
(3) find kids' books that address the question. Reading the story of
Good Friday through Easter in a children's Bible (lots of times) helped to
deal with the questions about Jesus.
Your preschooler's questions are totally normal and I think her curiousity is very
healthy. My 4-year-old has asked, ''what is time?'', ''what is a magnetic field?'', ''how
did I get in your tummy?'', ''what is God?'', and many more. I think it is only natural to
ask these things when you are trying to figure out how the world works.
One thing I have learned about kid's ''big'' questions is that they are usually just
looking for a small piece of the puzzle so I always ask them what they think the
answer is first so that I can determine what they are really asking or what
information they are really looking for instead of launching into a big complicated
explanation that they may not want. This hopefully opens up a dialogue, a working
out the answer together. Also, I think I have gotten better about giving
straightforward and short-ish answers. I also try to take my time with my answer.
They deserve a thoughtful answer and sometimes I tell them I need to think about
how to answer so I will ''get back to them''. Hope this helps.
isn't parenting fun!
I'm just shooting from the hip here. Tell her an age appropriate answer.
How did she get into your tummy? Tell her that you and daddy put her
there with your love and hope. She started out very small in your tummy
and you gave her love and hope and that every day she grew until she
was born. Tell her she came out of your uterus through your vagina. She
has got to know that she has genitals, I mean, after all, every boy on the
planet knows he's got a penis and testicles early on. He may not have
the words. Why keep our daughters in the dark about their genitals?! As
far as whether you will die...The question is how do you cushion the
truth that indeed you and I will eventually die. Try telling her this...Ask
her what happens in Charlotte's web? Tell her that when you remember
people that you love when they die they continue to live in your heart.
Tell her that it is sad when people we love do die. Tell her you hope to
live for a very long time. Talk to her about what you did when someone
that you loved died. Tell her how you remember that person.
The ''God'' question: Here is where you have to look at your religious
beliefs. Augsburg Fortress puts out some really good children's books
about God. There are three of them one is titled, Where is God?.
I do believe that here is where you have to ask yourself: What do you
and your spouse believe? How do you both want to raise your kids? Try
talking to a pastor or priest for some guidance. The question about ''Who
is Jesus'' look above. What do you think?
Yes, these are all big questions. These were ''big'' questions we posed
to our parents at one time. How did your parents handle or not handle
this? How did that affect you? How do you want your child to feel?
These are not ''big'' questions to her. She is curious and you will find out
that a simple answer will suit her happily. Be careful that you don't lie to
her or cause problems later on... like telling her about a stork- I mean -
come on. Keep in mind what your comfort level is. These questions will
not stop and it is best to be prepared. Tell her the truth, you don't have to
get into details. Just keep it age-appropriate. She will thank you for it
Bring on the ''big'' questions
I'm curious to see the other responses to your post since I was thinking of asking
the same question. I've been getting similar questions from my almost 3.5 y/o. He
asked me how his sister came out of my tummy. When I gave him the brief answer,
he continued to question, ''but how did she GET down there? Did she crawl?'' and
''but how did she get OUT?'' So he was wanting very specific answers to those as
well as continuing w/ questions & discussion we have about dying, God, heaven,
people/pets we know who have died, etc. It seems that my brevity isn't appreciated.
Details, that's what these inquisitive minds want; and will accept nothing less. I'm
not aware of anyone else whose preschoolers have similar questions/discussions,
but I have a feeling it might have something to do w/ their being so verbal. It might
be that other kids this age have these questions or thoughts but don't know how to
verbalize them is the same way. I'm still maintaining brief answers as long as he
allows it (like not going into great detail b/c he'll lose patience by the time I finish
answering.) Let's just hope they continue asking us questions when they're older,
instead of going elsewhere.
I think those are totally typical questions for that age, at
least for my 3.5 year old they are, and many other kids that age
I know. She's stumped me more than once as I didn't want to
upset or confuse her (if she asks about an animal dying,
something about God, etc.). I've realized, though, that she is
usually satisfied with a pretty simple answer; there is no need
to go into a big existential explanation. They are not always as
sophisticated as they seem! For example, my daughter often shows
an interest in church-I referred to her once as the Little
Minister-but as it turns out what she was really interested in
was wearing a dress and having cookies. (: It's pretty
interesting what they come up with, though.
My 6 year old has been asking about his grandparents (my
parents) as well as my siblings. I have been estranged from
them since he was 1, after my mother died and my dad insisted
that my siblings have nothing to do with me because I could not
make it for her funeral. My relationship with my family has
always been difficult, and became especially strained when my
sister became a fundamentalist Christian and convinced everyone
in the family that I was a heathen of sorts. My whole family is
very bigoted and intolerant toward anyone who is different than
them. I am the only member of my family to go to college and
have been severely criticized over the years, for among other
things, the fact that I have friends of other races and
nationalities and do not go to any church. What should I tell
my son? My husband's parents are both dead, so he has no other
grandparents. I would rather not deal with it at all, but I
fear it will not go away.
I would keep it age appropriate and say that unfortunately your family members are
not nice people and that they are mean to people that don't look or think like them.
I think that this could be a good opportunity to teach that one should not tolerate
bad behavior and one should stand up for oneUs values even though it might mean
having people mad at you.
We've dealt with some serious stresses over the last couple of
years -- life-threatening parental illness and job transitions;
and I've been wondering how other people talk about difficulties
around their kids (do they always wait until the kids are
asleep?) and to their kids(ages 5-8). My daughter seems to be
responding to the stresses we're under by having nightmares of
the animals chasing her variety a couple of times a week.
I feel for your situation, and have had to navigate some of those
same waters. A couple of years back, I came upon a great book,
called ''How to Talk to your Kids About Really Important Things'',
by Charles Schaefer and Theresa Foy DiGeronimo. I came upon it
at Nolo Press of all places, and it has been a great resource.
It includes chapters on, among other things, HIV/AIDS, drug
abuse, divorce, camp, hospitalization, alcoholism, divorce,
remarriage and step-parenting, and so forth. One of the main
premises of the book is to be a parent that is ''askable'', because
kids need to know, and will find answers to their questions,
one way or another, either from you or somewhere else. If they
feel comfortable asking you, and you are able to respond with
integrity, then you retain a relatively large measure of control
over the answers (thus helping to shape their response). I also
dealt with an illness when my kids were four and six. When I
first learned I would need surgery, I sort of walked away down my
own path until I could really come back into the family picture
with all the information I needed, and then to communicate
effectively to the kids what was going on, translate things into
their terms, make it managable for them, be prepared to respond
to their questions with drawings and calendars, and most
importantly, I think before I went into surgery I had done
a lot of my own homework, so I could tell them what to expect
without interjecting a lot of my own anxiety. And of course I
was blessed to have a great outcome, but I have a permanent
condition that still requires management. I have also taken
great care to let the kids know they are in no way responsible
for my well-being (my son, at the age of five, once offered to
be in charge of reminding me to take my daily medicine - I
thanked him for his thoughtfulness but told him directly I would
never burden him with the notion that he is responsible for
looking after me to that degree (his relief was palpable). As
far as communicating with your husband, I'd invest in a weekly
baby-sitter, or even drop the kids off with a friend/relative
every now and then, so you could enjoy the comfort of your own
home without needing to be concerned with their care. I found it
really critical to stay closely connected to my husband during
that time, and sometimes my energy just wouldn't hold out until
everyone was tucked in. I did not discuss these big ticket items
in front of the kids. My two, and it sounds like your daughter
as well, are just barometers of the emotional life of the
household. Not that they should be fully protected from all of
life's events, but the thought of anything harming mommy or daddy
is just really too much to bear for small people. I would
find it very natural that your daughter's concerns about your
welfare would express themselves in many ways, including bad
dreams. Now for some good news: kids are resilient, as we all
know, and for my own son and daughter, they have a greater
awareness of their own health and bodily functions, and how
hardships come, are handled, and go. We continue to talk as
things come up, but always with a great mindfulness as to what is
age appropriate. Best of luck with your concerns and the
well-being of your family.
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