Natalie Langmann on how she explained Orange Shirt Day to her four year old

I knew I could count on Natalie, when I wondered out loud “how do I explain Orange Shirt Day to my five year old?” Her explanations of Remembrance Day and the Terry Fox run were so good, I screenshot them, for reference. File under Good (and Age-Appropriate) Answers to Hard Questions.

If you’re rifling in the drawer to outfit the family in orange tomorrow, and you need help putting words to why you are making this gesture, Natalie serves us a pretty great script, in my opinion.

This is what she said.

Because I work for Murphy Construction Corp. the majority of our workforce is from the Lil’wat Nation. We all wore orange to work last year, and I also put Sofia in orange for daycare. When I dropped her off she was the only one wearing orange, and I felt like I had let her down and maybe confused her (this was during a period when Sofia would only wear purple).

Last year, I showed her a photo and Phylis, and told her that a long time ago in Canada, we made a big mistake and didn’t treat the First Nations right. We were mean. I showed her the photo of Phylis and told her that when she was a child she was taken from her mom and dad, and had to go live with other children that were also taken away. I told her that these kids that were taken all went to school together. She had her favourite shirt to wear and she was excited to wear it, but they took it away, and wouldn’t let her wear it. That wasn’t nice and Canadian people made a big mistake. We are sorry that we made a mistake, so we all wear orange now to say that we are sorry to Phylis and all the kids that were taken.

I told her that we wear orange to say that we all think people should wear whatever makes them happy. I told her we wear orange to say to Phylis that we are sorry that they took her shirt away when she had done nothing wrong. I told her that we wear orange so we can all look at each other in orange on this day and remember that mistakes can hurt people and we don’t want to hurt people ever again.

Now I am not sure if any of this made sense to her, but she listened and she was upset about why this girl was taken and that they took away her shirt, and then a couple days went by and she did ask if she got her shirt back. So then I told her that when we admitted our mistake, we made sure she got an orange shirt and that is why we wear one on this day because we all want to show Phylis that she is loved, just like all the other kids out there. No kid should be taken away and no kid should have their favourite clothes taken away, and we as Canadians won’t let that happen again.

I didn’t care if I had confused my four year old because she might as well learn it now and not later on in life. I tell her lots of things, and some might think they are a little too much for a little kid, but I think one day she will be grateful that her mom might have just told her too much.

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