Difficult conversations – How the heck do I explain that?


During studyHere are some things that are damn near impossible to explain to a 5 year old without getting lost in your own cornfield.


We drove past a notorious footpath smoking spot (at a bus stop near a major hospital) where patients, doctors and nurses gather to get their nicotine fix. What’s that thing they are putting in their mouths he asks. Why are they blowing smoke out of their mouths he asks. I had the advantage of being able to point out that they were near the hospital and so therefore they were sick, because of this silly, stinky thing they do called smoking. Yeah OK, it’s a tabloid TV tactic but I was forced to go in hard when he said that looks cool. My bluff was blown a week or so later when he saw someone smoking NOT near the hospital and pointed this out to me. I had nothing. It occurred to me that he has an advantage I didn’t have in that he is almost 6 and has never seen cigarette advertising, never seen someone smoking (until now) and doesn’t see cigarettes all over the shops when he goes in. It was normal to me, common and everywhere. Not so for him.


We drive past a cemetery almost every day. Mr 5 tells us every single time that this is where the dead people are. I wonder what he thinks this means, who he thinks they are or were. So far he has not asked too many questions, and I dread having to explain burial and dead bodies. He found a stick still, stiff and dried out lizard one day. Insisted on putting it in a jar and did not understand that it was dead. Well he sort of did, but I think he thought that this did not necessarily mean that this is the end of the line. In soldier games, as in lizard death, you can come back from the dead, and you do so often, so I think the same logic applies.

The length of the school year, and his schooling career in general

Every time school holidays come around he thinks that’s it. Is school finished now forever he hopefully asks. Ah, no. He was mortified to realise he had to continue until almost Christmas. But he was excited to learn that he would be in grade 1 next year. But then freaked out to know that he would be at this daily slog until he was big like his cousin. Time is such a complex issue and even to explain the concept of an hour is difficult. A year is incomprehensible.

Intestinal worms (don’t read on if you have a delicate stomach)

MUMMMEEEEEEE!!!!!! Came the scream from the toilet. There’s WORMS in my poo! I must admit I was a bit freaked out too, having never actually seen this phenomenon before. I mean, I majored in parasitology in university but this was in my own toiletnot frozen on a microscope slide. GROSS! Now to explain to Mr 5 what they are, how they got in there, how we are going to get rid of them and that they are not going to eat him from the inside. Quite a conundrum for the developing little brain.

The Burqa

LOOK! He shouted. It’s Darth Vader! As we passed a woman in full Burqa. Thank goodness we were in the car and there was no chance she’d hear us. This is not just a difficult thing to explain to a child, but inside an explanation come words like Muslim, religion, Qur’an and Islam. I kept it simple and left out most of those words. I wanted to give him an explanation that was simple. I needed to give him an explanation that was casual enough that he would be able to look at a woman in burqa as another person exercising a different choice for her own reasons. It’s hard to teach kids not to stare or shout inappropriate things when they see something they don’t understand. My explanation was about as fluid as a grade 8 English presentation about MacBeth.

Le Tour

I think this one goes without saying because as an educated adult I find this event incomprehensible. Try telling a five year old that the guy who just raced past the finish line first isn’t actually the winner. Yet. Or he might be. Or not. I think the fact that you have to sit up until 2 in the morning to watch it may have something to do with the confusion. My theory is that people who stay up to watch it are so sleep deprived by the end of the damn thing that they actually think they understand it.

The nightly news “…mother killed her own daughter…”.

This was a recent story in our national news and it was horrid. I never watch the news with the kids around, mainly because it’s on during toxic hour. This night I thought I’d grab a quick few minutes and before I knew it, that story came on. I was just a second or two too slow in reaching for the mute button. He heard those words and for a few moments I pretended nothing was anything and tried to change to subject. But he heard it, took it in and he was disturbed. That is all it took, just a few seconds of news. How in the world do you explain that to a child? I am sorry to say that I bullshitted my way through it. I told him it wasn’t real, just a stupid movie (we have had lots of talks about movies and real and not real so I knew he would understand this tactic). Then I changed the subject again. I don’t think I handled it well. I was just not prepared for that conversation at that moment. I usually give a lot of thought into how I will handle things we they arise, but this one caught me off guard and I was simply not willing to allow his beautiful mind to have to deal with the fact that Mummies sometimes kill their children. I thought I’d have a good 3 or 4 more years before I’d have to explain the darkest places of human brokenness to his bright, light, innocent world.

Written By – Tracey Egan from the AWESOME blog Passing Phase

traceyegan - Gravatar ProfileABOUT TRACEY EGAN

I live in Australia with my husband and three boys. I work outside the home with other people’s kids and inside the home with my own kids. It’s a world of kids. All views are my own and do not reflect that of my employer.



About Author

School Mum

Being a mum to 3 kids (one of them full time at home with me) and trying to juggle everything became pretty crazy.

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