Monday, May 2, 2011

What Do You Say To Your Kids About Bin Laden's Death?

Okay, so technically I am on vacation this week. But last night's announcement by President Obama about the death of Osama bin Laden has raised an important question: What do you tell your kids about this whole issue?

I might have just not mentioned this to my little ones for now, but on the way to take my son to preschool, I was listening to NPR as I usually do (and out of habit), and of course, the stories were all about bin Laden. I was distracted and not thinking. And was listening intently to the report, forgetting that my kids were listening in the back. Then my daughter asked me who the man they were talking about was and why was everyone so happy that he was dead.


Now, I personally believe that honesty is the best policy. I don't like lying to my kids. But I also know that they don't need to know every detail. And I think it is important to put things in way that they can understand. But sometimes I just don't know the right answers.

So here's how our conversation went:

"Mami, who are they talking about and why are they so glad he's dead?"

Big deep breath and thinking quickly. "Ten years ago a very, very bad man attacked our country and killed a lot of innocent people. Our government has been looking for him ever since, trying to find him to bring him to justice. And now they have. Many of our soldiers have fought and sacrificed to keep our country safe."

"Why did he attack our country?"

"Oh, probably for a lot of reasons. Partially because we don't believe in the same things he did. But mostly because he went bad on the inside and was just a really horrible person."

"And now he's dead?"

"Yes. Our armies have been looking for him for a really long time, since before you were born, and they finally found him. But when they went in to get him, there was a fight and he died."

"Oh, that's good."

"Well, yes and no. It is really wonderful that he will never hurt people again, but it is sad because we should never kill someone. Doing that is wrong. And it makes other people think that it is okay to do so. And we should never be happy that someone has been killed. Life is precious."

"But he was bad. And people hated him."

"Yes, he was. And what he did was terrible and hurt so many, many families. But hating someone who hates you, doesn't make them stop hating you. It actually just makes it worse. And we should always, always try to find another way to deal with someone who is bad or hateful."

"But maybe sometimes there is no other way."

And with that I didn't know what to say. How do you tell a child that you are relieved someone so awful is dead without implying that it is okay to kill someone? That rejoicing is inappropriate, but it is okay to be grateful to the men and women who have fought and died in the war, and who finally have accomplished what we have all wanted for so long? And how do you explain how it is wrong to wish someone dead, when after 9/11, I hoped and even prayed that he would suffer and pay for what he did not only to all the people who died and their families, but to this entire nation?

It is hard to teach something that you struggle with yourself.

And so, I wish to leave you my dear readers with these quotes that I read today:

"I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. "

~Jessica Dovey

"Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that."

~Martin Luther King, Jr.



  1. Loved your quote and what great responses you had to your kids.

  2. Thank you. But I wish I had better ones. I don't know if I'm happy with the way it ended! I was hoping maybe one of you could help me...


  3. Very touching. Nice to know that people have these conversations with their kids! I personally try to practice the philosophy of nonviolence, and it's not easy. Gandhi said, “We may never be strong enough to be entirely nonviolent in thought, word and deed. But we must keep nonviolence as our goal and make strong progress towards it.” I feel like it's hard not to hate back, but when we do violence just begets violence. I'm from a military family and I have a loved one in the war right now, and lately I'm feeling sad about seeing people rejoice because when does it end? Will people retaliate against soldiers now in response? So, my philosophy is that even if we hold a little anger in our heart we should try to preach nonviolence to children so that we can break the cycle. Because what we did (killing him) will not end the hate and violence on both sides (in fact, what if it makes it worse?), and maybe with our little ones we can create a world that stops the cycle of violence. I hope I'm not offending anyone because I know people have really strong feelings about this, but this is just my opinion and I respect every one else's decisions on how to handle it!

  4. Yes, Melanie! So great! I totally agree that the cycle just continues. I have actually just cancelled our plans to visit Spain this summer because of this. I worry about retaliation and fear for my children.

    You are absolutely right: Our goal should be to be a peaceable people. Sometimes that will mean forgiving the wrongs done to us. Granted, I know that 9/11 was huge, and forgiveness is something that is probably impossible for many. I don't know if I can/could do so. But I hope that is something that I can continue to work towards always in my life. And I hope my children learn this, too.

    Thank you for sharing. Great thoughts. I want to use some of this to teach and build up my own children to do good and make a difference.

    un abrazo

  5. I had a similar conversation with my 5 Y.O. as well (while listening to MPR News this morning). I also feel that our conversation didn't end so well, for me at least. Really what is there to say? How do you explain to a little one it is not right to kill, but then we do? Like you I told him O.B.L. was a very very bad man that hurt many people, and he was killed, and now he wouldn't hurt anyone anyomore, and I think I said something like- "Even though it is not right to kill, sometimes it is better for one bad person to die than for many innocent people to die because of that one bad person." I know horrible.

    How to explain "thou shall not kill"? When one hears of killings/murders often? I wish I could help you more, I still need to figure it out myself, if/and when I do, I will let you know. As for now I think the way you guided the conversations was as good as anyone could, under the circumstances.

  6. btw- I also agree with you Melanie. One needs to teach our children to find peaceful solutions so the vicious violence cycle ends. There is a wonderful book I am reading right now called, Above all Be kind: Raising a Humane Child in Challenging Times by Zoe Weil. It is great. It talks about the importance of teaching our children to be thinkers, and conscious of their surrounding and of the decisions we make and how that in turn affects us and those around us. I highly recommend it.

  7. Lisa, that sounds like such a great book! I will have to go and find it, too. And I think that there are probably many mothers out there who feel like we do - not completely satisfied with our answers.

    We just have to do the best we can because we are not perfect, but we love our children.


  8. Love your post. Love the conversation you had with your kids. This was a tough subject for my family as well. Thanks for sharing what you said and I always do the NPR thing in the car! Sometimes the news can be worse than violent movies!


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