Answering a Preschooler’s Hard Questions: “Where Do Bad Guys Come From?”

Family Matters on 07.28.11
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My favorite part of fielding W's ever-challenging queries is undoubtedly the way he drops the questions like bombs into unsuspecting, genial chit-chat. I am never ready for these humdingers. Never. Take the other day. We were cruising to the playground, W on his scooter, me on foot. He slowed down, slipped into pace with my lazy summer stroll and began a looping, three-year old monologue about the noisy state of ocean waves, the number of snails that must be hiding in our garden and what, exactly, he's going to have for dessert after he eats his dinner.

Then . . . bam!

"Mama, where do bad guys come from?"

Possible to Prepare?

If I'd had a week to prepare, I still think I would have choked on the answer, but slipped into easy conversation, the inquiry was doubly intimidating. You see, responding to a question about the origin of bad guys requires admitting that they exist. And who was I to break such news to kid who can't yet tie his shoelaces?

With just three years of living under his belt, W's world still revolves around the magic that is bulldozers and rainbow sprinkles and Curious George. Sure, he had spent the majority of the sweaty summer months decked out in a superhero cape and mask, reassuring his two overheating cats that he would "protect them from the danger," but was his preschool psyche equipped to process the concept of good and evil?

Stalling, I pulled out my finest mama move, the ultimate in skilled parenting. I changed the subject.  "Hey, do you know that marsupials actually keep their babies in a pouch that's part of their body?!"

But he was onto me and pushed for a satisfactory answer.

Not Pretty, But at Least it's Something

It was clear that there would be little to no artistry to my answer, so I took a breath and prepared to fumble. "In this world, some people do good things and others do bad things. And sometimes good people do bad things." I was rambling. "I like to believe that nobody is entirely bad and that even if someone does something he knows is wrong, like when you took that toy tractor out of Lily's hand and hit her on the head with it, he will feel sad and sorry for hurting that person and be sure to do the right thing next time." Still rambling.

"So, bad guys don't come from one place. They don't live in one town." I was talking fast now hoping speed would be some sort of consolation for my botched response. And it was, I guess. W had scooted 50 feet ahead of me and showed no signs of stopping.

Not a pretty answer. But at least it was something.

Photo: Colin_K/Creative Commons

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