How to talk to your kids about sedition, insurrection, terrorism, suicide bombing, sex, advertising, tokenism, school shootings, natural disasters, Covid-19, and processed meat products

It’s been a hell of a past 12 months and shows no signs of letting up any time soon. Nashville’s had a tornado, BLM protests where mostly white people looted and burned downtown, people scaring the suburbaners claiming AntiFa was coming to I’m not entirely sure what, Derecho winds that took down power to most of the city it seemed, Covid-19 and subsequent shutdowns and the like, a couple of high visibility deaths, virtual schooling, several Covid deaths in our circles, a bombing on Christmas morning that took out internet and a city block, and we’ve been watching the Capitol riots as well.

Raising a set of kids who are now 5 & 7 through all of this without attempting to hide the world from them has been more talking than I’ve every expected I would be doing and feels like there’s a lecture’s length every day just explaining why people think like they do.

So we’ll start out with the basics of everything. I’ve not hidden anything from the kids. I don’t exactly show them the terrors of the world but I have not hidden what’s going on and it’s come down to a fairly easy formulaic responses for most of the situations. As such the only really difficult conversations have been about things not done by people.

1) facts, stick to one, keep it small, simplify

What happened. It’s really important to pick something that happened in the event and stick to that point. Work on the small stuff first and work up to the big stuff. Layer it. But get one thing down at a time and snowball the rest. You can also pick one action and work out. Don’t try and cover everything.

Oh yeah, tell them it’s important but it’s also important to understand and not to have fear while you’re trying to understand what the parent is saying here.

Don’t go down the rabbit hole – You have people flashing Nazi shirts, telling black cops there was no racism in the 1960s, pooping in the halls of congress, literally fighting cops while wearing a Blue Lives Matter shirt, carrying and hanging a seditionist flag in the capitol, people shot, people dying, you can’t address all of that and you shouldn’t try to. Direct back to the big picture.

“People are angry about a lot of things, fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to pooping in the Capitol while a cow man poses for pictures and tanks any credibility for your cause”

2) prepare for the why

Keep a good set of 3 or 4 “why” hole cards prepared because they’re going to ask you why someone would do that. In the case of the Christmas Nashville suicide bomber the answers I have had and used were “he believed he was doing the right thing, he was mistaken.” and “sometimes people’s brains make them believe things that aren’t true.”

3) humanize, lest you create fear of demons and dehumanize

Not labeling the person as bad unless you’re just trying to instill fear. Their actions were bad, what resulted was bad. Their beliefs were just that, beliefs, they acted on those and others paid for it because they prioritized their beliefs and comfort before they considered the implications. Sort of like when you see a lot of candy and you eat it all and then get a stomach ache – well, you believed it was in your best interests, you chose the action, now you’re paying for it.

People believe a lot of things, a lot of them are told to believe anything that an authority figure (such as yourself,) tells them is the truth and the way and are never told to question what they’re told. A lot of misunderstanding when written things like “take care of your enemies” can mean offer them food and shelter, or it can mean kill them.

4) teach them that it’s ok to make mistakes

People are taught the have to strive to be perfect. They’re not taught enough that it’s ok to make mistakes, admit them, and move on. A mistake does not a fool make. Only when presented with the mistake and refusal to examine one’s beliefs does it become foolish. They dig a trench with every refusal to self examine and they step in it until they’re up to their neck in their own trench of refusal.

I tell my kids how I perceive it. I tell them I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my life and probably make more before the end of the day than most people do all week. The difference here is if someone tells me I’ve made a mistake, I tend to immediately examine what the person has said I’ve done incorrectly, mull it over for a second, and if I am wrong I admit it. I’m wrong a lot. You’ll probably find something here.

Refusal to admit mistakes causes rational people to come up with reasons why they’ve got to be right, and they tend to find people who agree and then take that as validation.

5) advertising, make sure they understand

One of the big enablers of hate groups is they’ve got a slick message and a couple of really good points. That sentence probably raised hairs on the back of your neck and you know something’s wrong with it. Large groups always have a couple of really good points and you don’t go down into the “how did I go from being a reasonable person to screaming to a homeless minority to quit oppressing me” hole without some serious life derailment a couple of years later.

Much like many churches use Jesus as the advertisement for entry and then preach the gospel of protecting the social and economic conditions that killed him, the picture on the box doesn’t match the contents. Do not stare at Happy Fun Ball lest Happy Fun Ball stare back at you.

Many hate groups, political leanings, cults and the like also are friend bases and when you leave the cult, you lose the friends. The worse a group is it seems the faster the people hooked by the advertising will be embraced as friends.

6) Offer to answer any question if they’ll think it up and give it to you

OK, kids have about a billion questions. Tell them to take a couple of minutes and come up with a question they really want answered and give it to you. Take some time and then answer it. It doesn’t matter if you’re right, already know the answer, or what, but take some time before you answer. Examine your answer.

For your answer are you judging someone, dehumanizing, oversimplifying, scaring, trying to downplay to stop fear? I mean you can do all of these if you want, just be aware you teach your kid that someone or some belief is not human and now they’re worried about demons, or write people off, etc.

7) it’s a body, there’re 7 billion of them on the planet

When my oldest was 5 she started saying she didn’t want to have a baby. I told her that was fine and she didn’t have to. When she was six she started worrying that she might spontaneously start making a baby. I told her that was not how it worked and that it was effectively a choice and required two people to make it.

We’ve got a lift the flap book that tells most of the processes for how babies are formed. She knows it takes two. She’s got the offer to ask at any point further on what happens but for now she’s content in the knowledge.

When it gets to the sex talk, maybe I’ll update this. I’ve tried to never lie about anything reproductive wise unless it was a really really obvious joke. Stick to the facts, it’ll save a whole lot of embarrassment and having to explain other things.

It’s a body, everyone has one, they look good, bad, smell funny, and you want to do things with them you don’t know why and then you do know why. A body is not special, but the person it holds it. The act of creating a new human, or just practicing is not a mystery, evil, bad, etc, but it is something you have to really know about before you try.

8) scaring a kid away with lies is the best way to make sure they come back

That person’s bad! OK, demonstrably false and they will return to play a large role in their life.
Sex is bad in this moral framework! OK, their bodies are going to override that and turn this into a fetish. Explain why you don’t agree with this and what the consequences are – are they physical, social, or just in your group?
These are all bad people! Are they? Really? You’re telling me everyone who doesn’t believe exactly what I do makes them a bad person? Everyone’s misguided sometimes.
I can’t be racist I’ve got a black friend! Everyone’s a little bit racist. If you let your guard down among members of your race easier than members of another it’s a bit racist. Racism is built in. Be the least racist you can be.
I can’t be racist, I am a black friend. Sorry, everyone is.
In gender – this person is wrong for how they feel / express themselves. This one’s a chapter in and of itself. TL;DR version is what does it matter and how does accepting that someone sexes differently than you hurt you?

9) the brain doesn’t work right all the time

Coming from a background as a cognitive psychology dropout I feel I’m an expert in quitting. Let me preface this with this was not my passion but I’ve read a whole lot about perceptual failures and chemical imbalances and to sum it up in kid speak sometimes the brain doesn’t work right.

It doesn’t make someone bad, but sometimes the brain does not work right. Like when you wake up from a sleep and try and take a pee in the kitchen before realizing you were still dreaming. Or when you’re so tired you forget you just did something.

Some people’s brains are like that all the time and a lot of them forget that good things have happened to them and they only remember the bad. Some people’s brains feel the only time they’re validated are when they feel like they’re fighting an oppressor, so they come up with reasons they’re the victim, all the time. Some people think that others only love them when they’re screaming back at them because the only attention they can see and feel is when it’s loud and directed.

The brain doesn’t work right all the time. Understand that, don’t slap the crazy label on someone you disagree with and dehumanize them. They’ve got their own issues and the kids need to know that.

10) labels

You’re going to have to use them at some point, but make sure your kids understand that a label is a shortcut and not a title. Pundits tend to throw terms like liberal, conservative, republican and democrat around without any recognition that there’s nuance.

People tend to identify with a label and accept the trappings of it based on society and not realize that there’re gay republicans who are pro-life, for stricter gun regulation, and anti-hate group. There’re Democrats who are for the wall, NRA members, and in hate groups.

But there’re also idiots.

11) idiots, idiotry, idiocracy

Stupid is a word we banned. My first empirical declaration of authority was my oldest could never use the word unless she could immediately explain why a person or action was, in fact, stupid. See labels for context.

However, some things are stupid. Hold my beer Bubba. Acting without examining the very easy to see consequences (licking a light socket, jumping off a house, etc.)

If after examination of the stupid event, it was in fact stupid and enacted by an idiot, the label can stand.

OK Maggie, how does you forgetting to charge an iPad make it stupid?

12) processed meat products

This is more about beliefs than it is about processed meat, however I’ll preface that I’ve been a vegetarian for 36 years at this point and tried to convert a total of like 2 people during this time. I had reasons for those people, and a mistaken belief on one’s health that rendered my ideas of the benefits of such incorrect.

I tell my kids where beef comes from. They understand it costs the life of a cow that was born and bred to be between corn and bread. I don’t tell them it’s wrong. They can decide in their own time. I tell them why I don’t do it and also that I don’t judge their actions.

Similarly I try and live my life and religion. I tell them why I do it, and when they’re not following I might mention my path and theirs diverging. I don’t preach unless we’re into the harming territory.

Live the life to inspire or don’t expect your message will get across. The only thing we force on the kids is getting out of the house as I think they’d become attached to the couch.

Also if you can’t adequately explain to a 5yo where pork comes from just say it’s pink chicken. Follow up with that it’s not and you’ll explain in detail when they can understand better but for now that’s the explanation your post toddler brain gets.

13) don’t lie

You may be tempted to lie. Don’t. When a kid finds out you’re a liar on one thing why would they believe you on another? This is how people follow leaders who lie constantly “oh well, dad lied to me, I loved him, he was a good person, I’m being lied to by this person, they probably have a reason”.

Acceptable is truth bending if a kid is afraid of something. There’s no reason to frighten anyone or make them feel they have to humanize deplorable behavior but there’s no reason to tell them they’re probably going to run into it over and over again throughout their life.


That’s about it.

Paul King

Paul King lives in Nashville Tennessee with his wife, two daughters and cats. He writes for Pocketables, theITBaby, and is an IT consultant along with doing tech support for a film production company.