When to Talk to Your Kids About Slavery, War, & Other Horrific Acts of Humanity

Today at storytime, the reader pulled out an interesting book.

To back up, this storytime consisted of kids aged 1 years to 7 years old. There is no age restriction, but the majority of the children were between 2-4. It was quite a young audience, so I was surprised to see what the reader chose.

Henry’s Freedom Box, by Ellen Levine is an excellent book that talks about slavery. If you look at Scholastic.com’s recommended reading age, you will see it says grades 3-5.

So imagine my (and the other parents’ surprised faces) as the reader began to read a story about a family being sold off as slaves.

My first reaction was to tear up at the thought of having my family sold. My second thought was, “Wait a second, isn’t my kid and the rest of the audience, way too young to comprehend what they’re being read?”

One Dad was trying to hold his surprise. Another mother said, “I wonder if they understand what she is saying.”

My third thought, and most important one was while I personally felt my almost 3 year-old was too young to understand slavery, “Why do we wait until children are so much older to discuss these things with them?”


While I’m not advocating sitting down and describing slavery or the Holocaust ad nauseam to your toddler, I think addressing these things and being upfront about our history as a nation and world whether good or bad, is essential. Painting things as rosey won’t help your kid who needs to navigate the world on his or her own one day. It also helps your child deal with what he or she may face out in the real world. If your child is female, a child of color, a child of LGBT orientation…. a child with a disability or physical impairment…or well, just about every child.

Kids need to know what they should overcome and hold their heads high about, but they should also know what they may need to deal with.

So while I am 100% positive my daughter had no clue what Henry’s Freedom Box was about, it was a great book to read to older kids who can have real frank discussions with their parents about slavery, race, humanity, and more.

We can’t arm our kids to go out into the world with a chip on their shoulders, but giving them ammo, confidence, and information to navigate society is our job.

I just wish I didn’t have to share such painful things with my daughter.

I just wish I didn’t have to share the numerous times I heard Anti-Semitic remarks, or endured cruel treatment because of my female status.

But letting her know that I rose above such things—letting your kid know how you rose above such things, will give her/them the power and faith that they can as well.

At what age do you think you should discuss such things with your child? Have you already? What were the results? What topics should we avoid discussing, if any?

From someone who believes anyone and everyone can sit anywhere on the bus, especially next to me,


4 thoughts on “When to Talk to Your Kids About Slavery, War, & Other Horrific Acts of Humanity

  1. xfmcdougle says:

    Right on the nose. Considering my ethnicity, I definitely agree. I would teach any child that I may have about the world. It’s a cruel place and they need to be prepared, but it’s good to know that there’s a couple good people out there.

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