One of the most difficult things to get right as a parent is communicating with the little darlings.
When does no really mean no? Or how do you discreetly get to the bottom of what is bugging a child without causing any unnecessary alarm? And perhaps the trickiest skill, how do you convey the true danger of a situation without scaring them so much you inhibit their thirst for life?
Warning about the perils of strangers is fraught with danger itself as it involves tiptoeing around the real crux of the matter - that there are people out there who would jump at the chance to harm a child.
The standard ‘You don’t talk to strangers because you just don’t’ is good enough for some kids .But it is when a subject pricks their interest so much that they feel compelled to look up from their handheld device and ask ‘why?’ that the real challenge begins. Why is a question that has been asked by children more than ever over the past week since the mass killings in Paris which sent shockwaves across the world and united it, for the time being at least, in the battle against terrorism.
There will be very few children of school age who won’t have heard even something about the horrors in the French capital on Friday, November 13, because the coverage has been quite rightly wall-to-wall. If our house is anything to go by, radios or tvs were tuned in almost exclusively to the news in the days after 129 people were gunned down in a series of attacks on one of the world’s great cities.
Like many of my peers I was soon asked: “Daddy, what’s an atrocity and why has it happened in Paris.” Obviously my initial response was inadequate as I was hit with the supplementary question: “Why did the bad men do it?”. Momentarily I was struck by fear, temporarily paralysed by the realisation that I may have to embark on a potted history of international politics or explain what a caliphate is or that these monsters throw homosexuals (a whole new set of questions right there) off tall buildings or that they think schoolgirls are ripe for marriage.
But I didn’t, I held my breath and responded with the line: “Because they don’t like the way we live our lives.”
I instantly regretted it as this really shouldn’t make sense to a six-year-old.
Should it? There was a brief look of incredulity followed by a sigh before she returned to the task in hand - a hand drawn family portrait complete with daddy’s comedy-sized belly.
Should I be concerned that my over simplified explanation to one of the most appalling losses of life in living memory was accepted at face value?
Then it dawned on me that it was I who had learned something as there can never be any justification or complicated explanation as to why something as horrific as the slaughter in Paris took place.
These people are bad and they did a very bad thing. Sometimes it takes a child to bring clarity to a seemingly complex situation.