Big Topics, Little Minds

Relaying big concepts to a 4-year-old has its challenges.

It wasn’t the clock that held my 4-year-old captivated for the better part of an hour-long meeting I attended recently. I was so proud of his behavior, he was quiet nearly the entire time.  I’ll admit he relied heavily on my iPhone he had clutched tightly in one hand, but his curious eyes darted back and forth from his intense game of Angry Birds to the wall directly behind me.

Below a big clock was a miniature crucifix, the image of Jesus Christ nailed to the cross. Being a child with a whole lot of language and developing reasoning and logic skills, Carson asked what most kids who have been to a Catholic Church might ask in one form or another:

“Mommy, who’s that naked guy on the ‘T’?”

We were still about 20 minutes from the meeting’s last agenda item and all I could do was admire his loaded question.

“Wow, buddy, that’s a good question that will take Mommy some time to tell you that story. And I can’t do it in a whisper…”

He peppered me with questions in a sequence that I was both stumped and impressed by. I didn’t know his wonder could be verbalized so instantly.

“Did you put him there?”

“Where are his clothes?”

“Did that hurt him?”

“When’s he coming down from there?”

“Is he asleep?”

I was able to curb his attention by allowing him to grab two additional donut holes from the meeting snack table. But I knew it was a subject I had to revisit and had to do it before we went to church again.

The “outta-sight, outta-mind” thing works well with a 4-year-old, so this bought me some time on the ride home. But I was truly wondering how to explain religion to my youngster in childlike terms he’d understand without adding fear to the equation.

I Googled the subject when I got home, but it was of little help. Most postings expressed a method of teaching about Jesus Christ the Savior and not about the specific answer my little one was wondering – how this man was nailed to the ‘T.’

I know that a parent’s fear of scaring a child should not be a reason to avoid talking with your children about something. But the truth is, it was me who was scared. Scared of Carson’s reaction, scared of sailing into the unchartered waters. He was the first of my kids to hold such an interest in this for so long and it was the first time in a while that I had to render an answer to a question that left me speechless.

I try very hard to ensure that I am being as honest as I can be with my children. I don’t intend to raise my children with artificial innocence.  However, there are some ills in society that I do avoid discussing with them, simply because they’re just too young. I don’t watch the news in their presence; I avoid leaving out some TIME magazines due to the graphic nature in some of the photos. 

And with the images of Jesus Christ nailed to the cross, I had a tough time explaining the torturous aspects in a method that Carson could understand. My hope was that the discussion would involve the good aspects of the symbol that I hope will resonate with my children – faith and sacrifice.

I tried to provide Carson with some everyday examples to help him understand the term sacrifice, but it was tough. I reminded him about times that he has put other people’s feelings or needs before his own. I thought I made some headway.

But when I took Carson for a quick walk through our church, he was spellbound when he caught site of the crucifix above the altar.

He stared at it forever. I watched him intently. And then he said, “There’s that guy Jesus again.”

And the questions began again.  

Before I could begin to attempt to answer Carson, who obviously noticed my discomfort, he looked at me and his most assured way said “Don’t worry Mommy, I’ll be a good boy … they won’t stick me on a ‘T.’”

I realized at that moment, that the evening news, TIME magazine and religion can all wait until Carson is a wee bit older.


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