As families of faith prepare their children to return to school this month, parents and grandparents may be worried about what is taught in classrooms. Adults frequently consider the messages kids should receive about sex, guns, drugs and strangers – but do we prepare children for the messages they may be given on abortion? And is the totality of the messages we ourselves send to children considered?

“I would love to say no … Christian has ever had an abortion and it’s a puzzlement to me, because the women I see are really nice, decent women who have abortions,” says nurse and counsellor Kathleen Gray, who founded the Centre for Reproductive Loss. Clearly, how we speak to children about abortion is part of our contribution to the culture of life. We not only have the opportunity to pass on our pro-life activism, but also to help prevent abortion within our own families, churches and communities.

The Interim has gathered 10 recommendations from parents and professionals on how to talk to children about abortion.

Prayerfully examine our own lives

Education about abortion “has to be done by people who both understand the issue and have resolved their own conflicts,” says Dr. Philip Ney, a child and child and family psychiatrist and child psychologist.

Consider the individual child’s development

Teresa Hartnett, a director of Project Rachel and executive director of Birthright in Hamilton, considers this recommendation to be the most fundamental. She explains that “children at a young age have a very difficult time understanding death at all, let alone death chosen.” Children should receive bits of information over time on a need-to-know basis, adds Ney, who urges parents to be keen observers of their children’s play, art and indirect questions connected to abortion.

Be guided by the child’s questions

Parents will want to provide age-appropriate information, knowing that the culture of death spreads early. But Amy Sobie, executive assistant at the Elliot Institute, has written that: “Parents should never force children to hear information they don’t want to hear. Children will usually stop asking questions when they have received as much information as they can cope with at the moment.” When an older child has not yet asked about abortion, Ney suggests parents talk to each other within the child’s earshot, asking questions that invite the child to answer.

Structure your child’s life so that (s)he is exposed to babies

Hartnett notes that in generations past – with earlier marriages, larger families, and overlapping generations – more young people grew up aware of pregnancy and infancy. See that the child spends time with young families and learns the beauty of life.

Recognize the child’s inherent sense of justice

Father Frank Pavone, U.S. national director of Priests for Life, has written that, “Teaching children about abortion is not as difficult as many think. Children are particularly receptive to the message of equality of all people and to the truth that might does not make right. They have a keen sense of justice and fairness. They know what it means to need protection from dangers they can neither withstand nor understand. They know what a baby is and they know it is wrong to kill a baby.”

Make an ongoing celebration of life in all its stages

Spiritual director Vicki Thorn, who founded Project Rachel, recommends that adults regularly communicate messages about sacredness: “every baby is precious;” “no child is ever a mistake;” “every child has a place in God’s world, and every child is a reflection of God.” We should be seen congratulating expectant parents and welcoming unborn children, even before a child understands reproduction. We can offer assistance to those we know in crisis.

Acknowledge the disappointment, fear and grief that children will feel

Ney observes that, “There’s no way to talk about war or famine or abortion without upsetting young children.” Honour the child’s emotions, saying, “I can see you’re upset, it must be frightening.” School social worker Mary Laframboise suggests saying: “I’m so sorry to have to even tell you about abortion, that adults, the ones you have to depend on to teach you and guide you, can sometimes go completely wrong and go against God’s loving plan in such a serious way. Because of abortion, we have lost so many children and all the good they were meant to do.”

Use compassion when referring to parents who abort

Sometimes adults suggest that abortion is an unforgivable sin, rather than practising reconciliation and understanding. “We don’t know somebody’s story. And you don’t want the child in a position to be cruel to someone else,” says Thorn. Rather than condemning parents who abort, she suggests saying: “Our societies say some children don’t have worth and because of that, sometimes people have heard this message again and again and then are pressured to believe that this child doesn’t have worth.” Another way to put this is: “Sometimes, mothers become very afraid and there’s no one to help them and so this mom might choose not to have this baby.”

Let them (over)hear that children are wonderful

As psychologist Theresa Burke, who founded Rachel’s Vineyard, notes, we need to “affirm the joys of parenting, not just the hardships and money of it.” Thorn notes that “the teen brain is really in a very fragile state: for the most part, they’re driven by fear … we need to do what we can to calm the fear factor” and teach young people that pregnancy and childrearing are indeed manageable.

Recognize the risk for abortion in our own families

Children sometimes learn that theirs is a superior family, where the kids are a reflection of the parents. They may not know that they, too, would receive the help that adults so readily extend to others. That notion “drives a lot of women into abortion clinics, who should have the support of a pro-life family but they feel they don’t … they’re held to higher standards than the rest of humanity,” says Burke.

Some children of pro-life families believe that coming home pregnant would “kill” their parents. Thorn finds that fathers “are almost more important than the mothers” in conveying that a family would be able to survive a crisis pregnancy.

Hartnett shared, “My children, my concern is, would be more inclined to consider abortion because I’ve been so open with them about my expectations for them … I know that they would be worried abour letting me down.” She agrees with Burke, who says that, “It’s important to reassure (young people) that you would never want them to experience that kind of pain (of abortion) … If they were ever in a crisis pregnancy that you would love them, they could come to you and you would help them through their problem with your unconditional love and support.”

Part two of this article, concerning those families where there has been a pregnancy loss, will appear in October.

Activities at home, school or church for children learning pro-life values

Show children pictures and posters of the beauty of unborn development month-by-month: gestation lasts about as long as a school year. Gorgeous painted illustrations with text can be ordered through www.littleonepublishing.com.

Spiritually adopt an unborn baby together. Teach children to pray for unborn children and for parents needing assistance.

Prepare for Christmas and Easter by saving money together to donate to a crisis pregnancy centre. For Christmas, buy toys for babies who don’t have toys.

Befriend a client of a crisis pregnancy centre. (In some schools, teachers can consider sending home prayer cards with information slips, but they must be prepared to carefully answer inquiries.)

With the church congregation, collect baby shower items for a crisis pregnancy centre. As a church, offer outreach to parents in crisis pregnancies.

Include adolescents in a Life Chain and discuss their experiences with them.

While adults are witnessing in front of abortion facilities,, let children stay home and offer a colouring activity related to life, such as a seed growing into a tree.

Have a crisis pregnancy counsellor invited to a high school.