Whilst listening to the news on the radio recently, my 7 year old asked me what the word murder meant. It was one of those moments where you wonder how much to say and how far this conversation will go. And, as usual, I was surprised when it wasn't the definition of murder that interested her, but rather the subsequent discussion on mental illness. She found it difficult to grasp the concept of mental illness, and I'm not sure how far my attempts to explain how being mentally ill can affect a person's behaviour, were grasped by her.
How far do we go when our children ask us these questions? While we want to preserve their innocence for as long as possible, we have to accept that we live in the real world and they will hear things and see things that we don't necessarily want them to, and before we think they are ready. When they don't have the vocabulary or maturity to fully comprehend something as difficult as murder or mental illness it's tempting to shy away from the subject completely, but I believe that we have a responsibility to address the issues that our children ask about. Our knowledge of our own children and how much they can deal with will dictate how far we go with an explanation, but to dismiss their questions entirely does them a disservice and runs the risk that they will stop asking us altogether.