As an early childhood education teacher, I was always excited to hear children’s stories about what they were doing outside of class. They loved to share stories of family trips, parties, and events. It was their stories that guided the planning of activities in the classroom. Periodically children would tell stories that put my teaching assistants and me in uncomfortable positions. Children would talk about death, family discord, interactions with law enforcement; often discussing the topics in ways that were clearly warped or misunderstood. Inevitably, other children would hear the story, relate to it in some way or another and ask tough, tough questions. Sometimes we talked to the parents about it. More often than not we listened and then made a validating, yet dismissive comment such as, “I’m sorry to hear that.” Then we redirected the conversation to something related, but more comfortable. We rarely had the courage to follow the children’s lead in the conversation and address the tough questions. I came to realize that the children were listening to everything, and much of it did not make sense to them. I was their teacher. I need to learn how to effectively address all of there questions. As the years went on, I did my research, went to professional developments and got better at approaching tough questions and turning tough questions into meaningful conversations about safety, empathy, love, and compassion.
Many years later I found myself on the other side of the parent-teacher conference table. I found out it was my child who was telling the class about family struggles, discipline strategies, and social concerns. My oldest daughter was and still is an exceptional storyteller. I can’t exactly recall the topics she would dream up in class, but, whatever they were, they made her teacher uncomfortable at times and we heard about it. From our vantage point, she was a dreamer and virtually none of it was true. But I was wrong. Based on what she was hearing from her family, our friends, her friends, media, and all else, her stories were part of her reality. After visiting a psychologist, I became hyper-vigilant in trying to help my daughter construct a more accurate understanding of the social world around her.
Initially, all of our conversations were relatively easy to talk about. They were basic “why” questions. I had to explain family fights, male and female anatomy, pregnancy (minus sex), and single parenthood. Then in January of 2017, when we were driving home from the grocery store when I encountered a new phase of answer tough questions. She asked, “Why would they want to build a wall? Will we still be able to see Vito (great grandfather in Juarez, Mexico)?” I was flummoxed. Her question was a question I was struggling with. How was I supposed to answer a question I could not answer for myself. Her question, as well as the hundreds of other questions over the years, has forced me to search for those answers.
This website is about experiences. It is for anyone who has or wants to answer questions they struggle to answer for themselves. The blogs share a critical perspective on how to get to the heart of what children hear rather than redirecting the conversations. If you have your own stories and wisdom, I invite you to contribute your writing. This website is not about having the right answer, it’s about being intentional and honest when responding to our children’s tough questions. Whether it’s about racism, addiction, Native American relations, suicide, child sex trafficking, bullying or the other countless messages we experience personally, our children are listening and experiencing them too.