Children Information Overload
When my sister and I were still in elementary school, my mother believed we were too young to attend funerals. Not because of our behavior, mind you, but rather the due to the nature of the event itself. As such, we did not attend my grandfather’s funeral when he passed away on that sad Thanksgiving Day in the 70s. She did not wish for that to be our final image of the man and I can’t say I disagree with her. I held the same belief for my boys while they were that age. There are just some things children do not need to know or see.
We can give our children too much information too fast. With media the way it is and more parents permitting their children earlier access to the internet unsupervised, little ones are bombarded with more than their young minds are ready to process. They can become confused and scared, leading to nightmares and emotional turmoil. The 8-year old came home crying one afternoon because she heard the song Cannibal and had images of people eating people in her head that terrified her. (Be careful parents what you allow your children to listen to.)
Everything is magnified in the eyes of a child - good things are seen as great and bad things are terrifying. We’re expecting a child who cries over Barbie’s missing shoe to relate to a loved one’s major surgery or catastrophe in another part of the world. Quite often, trying to talk to a child of these things as if they’re adults does more damage than good.
I’m not saying hide things from the children. That can be just as harmful. When my grandfather died, my sister and I were sent to a cousin’s house while my parents went to the hospital. At first, I didn’t know what was going on. Our visit with my grandparents had suddenly gone sour. Grandmother was crying. Mom was on the phone. Dad and my uncles huddled worriedly around my grandfather. Paramedics showed up. Then an ambulance. My sister and I were put in the car and ushered away with a short explanation that didn’t explain much.
This is when I should have known I was going to be a writer. My mind went into a dramatic overload. I sniveled. I cried. I wailed. Okay, maybe not a writer, but an actor. When they finally told me what was going on I pulled into myself and held the proverbial black cloud firmly in place over my head. I was dramatic. Overly dramatic. I wasn’t mature enough to deal with the situation without causing my parents more stress.
Again, I’m not saying that we lie to our children or hide things from them. However, be careful how much of the gritty detail you give your child. There is such a thing as too much information. When Hurricane Floyd was supposed to hit our area, we were told to evacuate. Char and I packed the car, loaded the kids and pets, and headed north to my parents. We all called it our Evacuation Vacation and while Char and I kept an ear out for news back home, we kept the radio away from the boys. We went on an actual three-day vacation and allowed them to enjoy themselves without worrying about what might be happening to their action figures back home. As it turned out, Floyd turned and never touched us, so the children, if given the horrifying possibilities, would have been worried for nothing.
It’s been the same with loved ones in the hospital. Little children do not need the full weight of an illness or injury. I don’t want my kids to worry. When the boys were little, I was having some massive chest pains, bad enough to drop me to my knees in an instant. When I went into the hospital, they knew that I wasn’t feeling well and was having some tests done. That’s all they really needed to know.
“I’m going to be fine. I’ll be out in time for your soccer game,” I assured them and then asked about what they had done that day. It was the same when their grandfather went in.
When the 8-year old recently saw me wearing the heart monitor, we joked that the girls were having me tested to make sure I had a really had a heart. She asked questions about what the monitor did and if it hurt, and we answered every question she asked. We did not pre-diagnose and feed her all of the worst case scenarios. Parents who do that are merely looking for attention and putting their need for dramatics above the protection of the child. There is a limit to what young minds should be forced to deal with and a good parent will know that limit.
As you feed your child information try to do it in the most positive way possible and avoid the dramatic negatives. Always ask yourself two questions. How will this affect them? Do they really need to know these details? Most of the time, they don’t.
* * * * *