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?