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When is the right time to share bad stories with your kids?

Recently we made a visit to the library. Each of the kids picked out a few favorites and I went in search of a couple of books I wanted to read to them. Since March is Women’s History Month I thought I’d snag something to read to the kids about a women I admire from history, Anne Frank. Assuming that there are a handful of kid’s books about her I searched through the stacks until I found one that seemed suitable book and checked it out along with the rest.

Anne Frank is such an iconic figure to me. I hold the memory of reading the Diary of Anne Frank for the first time very close to my heart. And even now in my 30s, nothing puts my life into perspective like thinking about Anne Frank.

My kids are eight and six. Way too young for the Diary of Anne Frank and of course teaching them all about the Holocaust, while important, feels like it would be a bit much for them at this age. So I assumed that a children’s book about her life would gloss over some of the aspects that they might not be ready for yet still show them what an inspiring girl she was.

Color me stupid.

Because that night as I opened up the book and began to read to them I suddenly saw the pages were covered with swastika’s and cartoon depictions of Hitler and the Holocaust. “Who’s Hitler and why didn’t he like Anne’s family?” they asked.

I took a deep breath. Who’s Hitler? How do you explain to a eight and six year old that in the real world there really are villains more evil than all the bad guys in the Marvel universe? Especially when in the past I’ve told them that the scary bad guys on TV and in the comic books aren’t real. How do I explain about Hitler without admitting that those bad guys do sometimes exist?

I closed the book as every picture and story I ever read or heard about the Holocaust flashed in my mind, and I looked at the book and realized that there really wasn’t a way to gloss over the fact that Anne Frank’s story ended with her dying in a concentration camp.

By telling them that story, right then at that moment, I couldn’t help but feel I would be taking a tiny piece if their innocence away that they’d never get back.

I answered their question simply by saying, “Hitler was a bad bad man who didn’t like people. But we’ll read this story some other time.” Instead we all agreed on reading the tale of Humphrey the Whale. A true story with a happier ending and no Nazis.

So, when did you share these stories with your kids? It seems like there will never be a “right” time, but is there at least a “good” time? What are your thoughts?

21 Responses to “When is the right time to share bad stories with your kids?”

  1. giveawayhound

    This is a tough question. My son's only 2, so definitely too young to learn about the Holocaust, but I really don't know what the right age is. I would guess it depends on the child. I don't even know when that cover that kind of stuff in school.

    • Meghan Harvey

      That's a great point! I should really ask the teachers I know and find out.



  3. Teresa Moore

    My daughter is six and a half and a very sensitive and emotional child. My daughter is in the first grade but reads on the level of a third grader. Some books are just too intense for her that are not even history related. She read about a dog in a story the other night that went underwater and did not surface and she lost it emotionally. It took awhile to get her to calm down and read on to the point that the dog eventually did surface and live. I was not even sure she could handle the story of Helen Keller and that made her ask a lot of questions. History will be an interesting subject that will not be tackled for several years.

    • Meghan Harvey

      Very true! My daughter is in first and has learned about Helen Keller, whom she adores! 🙂

  4. BraceH

    Its kind of a hard decision to make regarding the right age. Our son is 10 and has already had to do a project on WW2 in which he learned some of the details of Hitler. In doing so he had many more questions as well. My younger 6 year old daughter however would have to be at least a few years older in my mind to be able to handle it without it bothering her emotionally. Its not a thing you can put a specific age on in my opinion.

    • Meghan Harvey

      I guess it truly depends on the child and family. I had friends growing up who's grandparents were in concentration camps. So I think when it's first hand family history it might be different as well…

  5. Cindi

    I tend to go with what our children are studying in school!
    Each child is different and I believe that they will let you know
    in their own way, when they are ready for bad stories…

  6. Anissa

    I was driving my almost 6 year old son to school one morning, and as I love musicals, I had Little Shop of Horrors in my tape deck and he loved the scary monster musical, but it also brought up some big talks as it's about a man eating plant that convinces a guy to feed him "bad guys" and he'll make him happy. So we talked about people who are abusive to others (the first victim is a real jerk) and also about drug use (as the Dentist likes to get high on the Nitrix Oxide). In hindsight it may have been a bit much but it did promote some good discussions as as it's over the top campy it was as drastic as it could have been (and it was all audio vs visual)…

    • Meghan Harvey

      Yea, I made the mistake of watching that one with my kids a few months ago, forgetting how dark it actually was! But at least that was fictional, so no real damage done.

  7. Susan Smith

    My children talked studied Anne Frank and Hitler in Elementary school but tthey were in the 5th or 6th grade which I think is a good age.

  8. Melissa

    Have you watched the Kony 2012 video? The scene with the father explaining to his son made me feel anxious and a little disturbed. I understand how he thinks his son shouldn't be oblivious to his political agenda, but considering that the topic was about abducting children and forcing them to do heinous acts, I would've opted out. Maybe it's due to my own sensitivity, but if I were his son, I'd be paranoid! Although I think exposure to certain topics is healthy for maturation, I do think there's a definite correlation to the extremity of topics and age. By the way, from what I understand, the Holocaust is usually introduced via Anne Frank's diary at around Grade 6.

  9. Tari Lawson

    I think that 6 and 8 is not to early to answer the question of "who is Hitler and why didn't he like Anne Frank?" Afterall, we tell our kids about stranger danger. What could be more scary than someone possibly taking you away from your parents. Hitler lived a long time ago and is no longer a threat. Of course, at that age, details needn't be presented. No need to go into the whole concentration camp thing or show the the horriffic photos and videos that exhist on the subject. A simple "he was the leader in Germany who believed that some people where better than others and harmed those he didn't like" probably would have been the route I would have taken.

  10. Kenia

    My twins are only 2, I think they are too young but I do have a 9 year old. I think they should all learn about history.

  11. Michelle

    They should be old enough to understand right and wrong, and to know people (even adults) make bad choices.

  12. Charissa

    That is a very hard decision to make. I personally would go with what would make you most comfortable and your children most comfortable. I agree that is a very good book filled with a lot of history on what had happened during that time. Mabe waiting till they were as close as the could be to Anns age in the book. But its just a suggestion, good luck with everything!

  13. Megan

    I think it depends on the maturity of the child, my daughter is still 3 so i don't know when i would start to share bad stories with her. Maybe in Middle school age when they start to really learn about bad historic events?

  14. Heather

    I don't know when the right time is going to be. I would like for our kids, at least our son, to see the Harry Potter Movies. I am thinking 7 or 8 years old, or older. My husband and I got to visit the Anne Frank house in Amsterdam in 2006. Wow is all I can say. Going there really made everything real, and sad.

  15. Rosanne

    The age of reason 7. They need to know there is good and there is evil in the world. Protecting them from everything creates weakness not strength. Tell them in a matter of fact way. There are adults in Iran and Europe who want to pretend the Holocaust never happened or was made up or exaggerated. My father served in World War II. We grew up seeing documentaries on that war. It did not scare me. I grew up strong a survivor and when our country was attacked on 9-11 my son was already in the military and served 3 times. He too is a survivor. Yes it was the hard but I'm proud I didn't pamper him


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