Explaining Nazis to your 4 year-old

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“As a parent, I come from the “keep it real…all of it” camp. From the food you put in their mouths to the truths you teach them about life.”

Being picky about the shows your children watch is important.  Knowing the content of the shows is also important. I’m amazed at just how many children’s shows are floating around on the numerous digital highways out there (i.e. hulu, Netflix, cable TV, etc).  I’m equally amazed at just how many of them are total rubbish.

Before I go off on a tangent about television and young children (I will do that some other time), let me get back on topic.

As you have probably guessed…I am quite choosy about the shows my kids watch.  My better-half is also on the same page and we were both very excited to watch the Sound of Music with the children. They were 3 and 4 years old when we watched it together as a family for the first time, all snuggled together “deep-couch sitting” with our popcorn and blankets.  

Until this moment the only movie they had seen with real-life people (not cartoons) was Mary Poppins.  My oldest is a boy and he has always been quite inquisitive and is definitely an “old soul.”  His biggest take away from Mary Poppins was the fact that women couldn’t vote. We have had many chats about that since then…again for another blog, not today.

His pointed questions as to “Why didn’t men want women to vote?” and “How silly that people thought women weren’t as smart as men,” should have tripped my alarm bells for content with the Sound of Music movie, but it didn’t.  I’m sure you’ve guessed what his take-away from this movie was from my title of the blog…incase you haven’t, it’s explaining Nazis to your 4-year old.


“All children have questions about life and how it works. It’s important as parents that we answer these questions with as much honesty and integrity that we can.”

One of the personal rules I live by when it comes to questions with anyone is this: if you’ve got the guts to ask the question I will give an honest answer.  Just be ready for the truth. Obviously with children tact comes into play. You can’t just lay out all the raw awful details of what the Nazis (human beings) did to the Jews (again…human beings).

What I did give was an accurate, honest, simple answer to his question “Who are the Nazis and why are they chasing Maria and her family?”

“Nazis are a group of people who believe that nobody else can look, feel, think, or act differently from them and if you do they try to harm you. They were chasing Maria and her family because Maria and Captain Von Trapp believe everyone deserves a chance to make up their own minds and the Nazis didn’t like that.”

That was the broad-reaching answer I gave.  Of course we discussed it further in bits and spurts as more questions came up for him.  This back and forth banter went on for about 2 ½ months before the daily questions stopped.  He still brings up the topic but seems “satisfied” with the answers he was given. His main fear was about Maria, and if she and the children were going to be safe.  


“Momma b, how did they kill so many people?”

“They told them they were going to take a shower, locked them in a room and put bad chemicals in the air which made them stop breathing.”

Direct, honest, and factual, but I didn’t go into the details.  Every child matures differently physically and emotionally. I know my son very well, and his pragmatic little brain was able to hear what I said and process it.  I didn’t want to sugarcoat the type of people Nazis are to my caucasian, blonde hair, blue-eyed boy. My response to how they killed so many people is true. What it is not is easy to hear or digest.

Just because something can be digested doesn’t mean it has to taste good.  We encourage our children to eat “horrible things” like broccoli because we know it’s good for them and their bodies.  I encourage parents to “feed their children broccoli” when it comes to how and what they teach them. Cut it up into bite-sized pieces but don’t sugarcoat how ugly humanity can get.

I often find myself telling my children that all people have good and bad qualities.  Even people who call themselves Nazis probably have some good qualities, but it’s hard to see when their bad qualities (like the desire to murder an entire race) overshadow them.

History isn’t pretty and mankind hasn’t always been kind.  So don’t do your children a disservice by shielding them from the basic realities of life.  Teach them that there will always be people who want to harm other people. However, there has always and WILL always be people who will want to help others.  I tell my children everyday to be a helper in a world of need.

“We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread.”
— Viktor E. Frankl- a Holocaust survivor.