The Big Picture: Addressing Challenging Topics With Your Preschooler


The world can be a deeply scary place. Death, terrorism, climate change, extinction…do you tell your preschooler the details, or do you shield your preschooler from all knowledge of these events? I tend to be a tell-all kind of gal, with a focus on making the information accessible to a preschooler. Sometimes I wonder if I’m doing the right thing by talking about the “big scaries” at all, though.

When my daughter asks me if I will die, we have a good discussion about it. I don’t try to scare her, but I do try to be realistic. I will die, and I don’t know when and neither does she. Other people we know have died. We can’t deny that people die. My thought is that I can’t shield her from the reality of death, so I would like her to understand it as another transition and talk about it with me.

What about terrorism? After September 11th, some parenting authors recommended that parents try to shield their children from the idea that terrorism could happen again, telling the children that they were safe. I believe that my child needs to feel secure. Yet as a long-term human rights activist, I also believe that she needs to know that not everyone in the world is secure. We talk about how people sometimes hurt other people, and how that must make the hurt people feel. We talk about why people hurt others.

And as the Copenhagen Climate Summit opens, what about climate change? What do we tell our children about that? We don’t know what will happen with the global climate. As an environmental educator, I know that children need to love what they have before they can be moved to protect it. Telling young children that the earth is dying is a good way to terrify them into inaction. Yet I still feel compelled talk about my values – we take the bus, and we talk about why it is good to take the bus and why it is hard for some people to take the bus. We talk about ways to make it less difficult for people to get around without a car.

What do you think? Do you discuss the “big scaries” with your preschooler? How far do you go?