Talking with Young Kids about Osama bin Laden

It occurred to me that my first-grade daughter might hear people talking about Osama bin Laden in the next few days.  She has never heard his name before, and I don’t want her initial lessons about him to be taught by equally clueless kids on the playground.  So I decided to hold an age appropriate discussion with her this morning.

“Katie, you may hear people talking about a man named Osama bin Laden at school.”

“Who?” she squinted up at me, busily devouring a dripping pear.

“Osama bin Laden.  He was a dangerous man who did not like our country.  Almost ten years ago, he planned some attacks here that caused a lot of people to die.  The United States has been looking for him ever since.”

“How did the people die?” Katie asked.

“Mostly in fires and in some buildings that collapsed.”  I figured there was no need to be more specific, especially since we travel on airplanes frequently, and I don’t want her to feel anxious.

“That’s sad,” she said.

“It is sad,” I agreed.  “And the reason we’re talking about it now is that the United States found him, and he was killed in a fight.”

“How was he killed?” she asked.

“With a gun. Remember, guns are very dangerous.”

“Oooh, you said the G word,” she commented.

“Katie, usually when someone dies, people feel sad and respectful.  But Osama bin Laden killed people, and so most people feel very relieved that he has died.  Although it may seem strange, people are glad that he is dead because they were scared of the bad things he did.”

She thought about this for a minute.  “Was he like Voldemort?” she asked, trying to make sense of it.

“Yes!” I said.  “Exactly like that.  And even though he is gone, he still has followers. People who believe in what he was doing.”

“His parents?” she asked.

“Well, more like a group of people.  They are called Al Quaeda.”

“Are they like the Death Eaters?” she wanted to know.

“Yes, like that,” I agreed.  “The reason I am telling you about this is so you don’t feel confused or uninformed if you hear about Osama bin Laden.  And if you have any questions, I want you to come ask me.  It can be complicated.”

“Also, Katie,” I added, “You might even see people cheering or celebrating because he is gone.  Please remember that we don’t normally act that way when someone dies.  This is just a really unique situation, and people feel like this was a big triumph of good over evil.  After being scared for so long, lots of people are celebrating because the world feels safer.”

Katie listened, and I think she understood.  We live in a world where the media is pervasive, and although I protect Katie from the news when she is on our home, I cannot control the outside world.

By talking with her about the developments in the war on terror, I hope to create a basis of facts that will influence her interpretations of anything else she may hear. 

And I hope that she grows up in a safer world than the one she came into.

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  • I think you made a wise move. It's always better to hear about things from parents first.

  • The voldemort/death eaters comparison is not that far off. Unfortunately, Bin Laden's death won't signal the end of al-Qaeda, (as Voldemort's death signaled the end of the death eaters).

    You may also want to tell her that there are these superheroes in the world that protect her from bad people like Voldemort/Bin Laden and they're called Navy SEAL Team Six.

  • In reply to gwill:

    Yes, I have read that we should reassure children that the country is doing all it can to make sure we are all safe.

  • In reply to gwill:

    Ask Katie in 3 day's, who is Osama Bin Laden. I don't think she will even recall what you felt compelled to tell her, because for a 1st grader, none of it matters, and it shouldn't for a 1st grader.

  • In reply to BrentStone:

    I disagree, and think you are underestimating the perception and intelligence (and memory) of a first grader. Today I was reading about "pacas," rodents found in Mexico and south of Mexico, with my almost 3 year old son. He said, "Daddy went to Mexico to a meeting on a plane, and he was scared of the bad people." True, my husband went to Mexico 2 months ago on business and he and I had talked about the drug wars (which my son obviously overheard and absorbed). Children have an amazing memory and also are instinctively tuned in to any information they hear about good and bad and staying safe. Thus, it is best to keep them reliably and accurately informed, before they get misinformation from outside sources.

  • In reply to BrentStone:

    jiyer, I should have been more clear on talking to a kid about Osama Bin Laden. Why would anyone want to spend time trying to explain to a kid all the bad things someone has done. Let a kid enjoy just being a good and not be filled with how bad people are in the World.

    A kid doesn't need to be warned of the dangers that adults do because a kid is always surrounded by adults to make sure they are safe from harm. Once they get older, they can start learning about the dangers.

    As to underestimating the perception and intelligence of a child, the intelligence side is the ability to recall. The perception of a child is the emotional side of a child.

    Children respond to others emotions. Pay closer attention to notice what happens when a young child falls down. The child with look at the parent, and if the parent shows signs of concern, the child will decide something wrong just happened and will cry.

    If the parent is able to control spreading their emotion over a harmless fall, the child will get up and go along as if nothing has happened.

    To elaborate just a bit more, think of the fire on a stove top. Parent tells the child, never touch this. It will burn you. The child doesn't know the real meaning of burn, and if the child is like everyone else, the child will experience a burn, regardless how hard a parent tries to keep a child safe from all of the dangers in the World.

    To wrap up, let a child enjoy the World and not teach a child about bad. Doing so, makes a child fear the World, more that enjoy it. Let the parent be responsible for the child's safety, and let the parents create their own fears. Just don't pass them off on their kids.

  • In reply to BrentStone:

    WTM, I did not perceive Carrie's conversation with Katie as being one that instilled fear. Rather, it seemed like an age-appropriate way to let her know the story behind what she may hear on the school playground - and a way to assure her that this is what it is, there is nothing to fear.

    I do agree with you about keeping our children carefree and safe, and it is possible to do that without sheltering them from all that the world has to offer, be it good or bad. In fact, you can prepare them for the dangers which, as you say, are inevitable, and you can do this without killing their happy, carefree spirit. Carrie seems to me to have done just that.

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