Why I Talked to My 8 Year Old About Charleston

Sarah Harris

Horror, sadness, and hopelessness gripped my heart as I read the news this morning. Horror at the gruesome nature of this act of terror. Sadness for the victims and their families. Hopelessness for the state of our country . . that this violence and bloodshed and hatred is becoming commonplace.

I was filled with these emotions . .  but not fear. In the wake of the Charleston massacre, I am not afraid for my own safety, nor for the safety of my children. I am not so naive to think that nothing bad could ever happen to us; surely terrible things happen everyday. But I am white. I live in a comfortable, upper-middle class neighborhood. I am not afraid. But so many mothers’ hearts were filled with fear this morning. Because they are black.

I thought of the conversations that were happening in the homes of these mothers this morning. Heartbroken mothers telling their children, again, that they have reason to fear . . . just because of the color of their skin. In 2015. In the United States of America. They have a reason to be afraid. They had a reason to talk to their young children about the nine lives that were taken, so tragically, so horrifically on Wednesday night.

And because they did, so did I.

Racial hatred and violence is not a “black America” issue. This is a “human being” issue. One that we have to acknowledge and address. My children, because they are white, do not know the fear that some of their classmates and neighbors know and, while I’m thankful for that, I’m not okay with that. I’m not okay with my children not knowing that racial violence in this country still exists. I’m not okay with my children thinking that We Have Overcome. We haven’t. But someday, we can.

This morning, after I wiped my tears and busied my 3- and 5-year olds with a water table on the patio, I sat down next to my 8-year old.

“I want to tell you about something that happened in Charleston, South Carolina on Wednesday night,” I began. “It’s a scary and sad story, so if you want me to stop, just tell me. If you have any questions, you can ask them whenever you need to.”

I went on to tell him what happened – just the facts as I could piece them together from the various news accounts I’d read. He listened, making eye contact the entire time, which is rare for him. He was really listening.

I continued, “I don’t know why this young man did this horrible thing. I don’t know what thoughts were going through his head, but I can tell you this: For some reason, his sick brain believed that he was better than the people in that church last night. He believed that their lives did not matter as much as his own life. He thought that the lives of black people do not matter. I want you to know that they do. ALL lives matter. It doesn’t matter where you live or how much money you have. It doesn’t matter if you believe in God or what language you speak. It doesn’t matter what color your skin is. ALL lives matter, every life is important. And this sick, sad, hate-filled man took away nine Important Lives.”

Because he continued to just look at me, wide-eyed, I went on.

“Listen: I’m sad today. But I’m not scared. I think, if I were African-American, I might be scared this morning. And that’s why I’m telling you this. It’s not fair that some families have to be scared today just because they are black. I hope that, someday, that fear will go away.”

He nodded. And looked down, deep in thought.

“Do you have any questions?”

He shook his head. I’m sure, in good time, as is his way, the questions will come. Regardless, the conversation will continue.


I talked to my 8-year old about the Charleston terror attack because:

– He recites lessons learned from school with words like “a long, long time ago, back in the olden days, black people and white people were treated differently. But Martin Luther King Jr. fixed all that when he gave his speeches.” It wasn’t that long ago, and little has been “fixed.”

– I wanted him to see me cry for the nine people who were killed: men, women, husbands, fathers, mothers, sons.

– He’s not too young to know that All Lives Matter. Black Lives Matter.

Lesson Learned:
Gun control. Mental health support. Love. Peace. Kindness. Is that too much to ask?

Head to the Front Porch


Why I Talked to my 8 Year Old About Charleston

This post was syndicated with permission to BonBon Break Media, LLC.

Sarah Harris is a mom, a writer, and a taker of too many pictures. She is constantly seeking Peace & Quiet and Additional Storage on her phone. You can find her writing on her blog, Live, Laugh, and Learn, quoting her kids on Twitter and filtering photos on Instagram. Her writing has been featured on Scary Mommy, BonBon Break, and Mamalode, which makes up for the fact that she hasn’t been able to drink a cup of hot coffee without reheating it in eight years.