Teaching Children about War


By Ron Hindbaugh M.A.


It has been impossible to shield children from the constant information received from the media about the war and turmoil. As a result parents become involved in the task of explaining war when normally questions of war are addressed in school, later in life, or from a historical perspective. Whether you want to or not, you will probably have to address the issue of war with your children. Here are some ideas that may be helpful as you approach the task of communicating with your children

·        Find out what your child knows already. When the topic comes up, ask an open-ended question like, "What have you heard?" This kind of question encourages your child to let you know more about what he is thinking.

·        Listen. Listen carefully to what your child has to say. Children like to know they are being heard.

·        Acknowledge. Say something to your child that acknowledges that you have heard what he said. A statement like, "You are worried that plane has a bomb," acknowledges what he feels and encourages him to tell you more.

·        Offer reassurance. Underneath a child's question, she may be worried about her safety. Tell her about the different ways she is safe.

·        Accept. Recognize and accept your child's point of view without judgment. It may not be the same as your own.

·        Explain simply. Provide answers that are appropriate for your child's age. You don't need to say too much. A simple sentence may be enough.

·        Talk about your feelings together. For example, if your child asked you about people being injured in a war, you might say, "I feel sad those people were hurt. I wish there was a way the problem could be solved without that happening. How do you feel?"

·        Do not weary of answering questions. Be prepared for children to ask the same question many times. This means they are continuing to think about the issue and may need more information. You might save some information for later discussions.

Children often interpret war and violence very differently than adults. When young children see or hear about violent events, they may worry about their own safety. Because they are not able to fully understand things like cause and effect, and even distance, it's hard for them to make distinctions between an immediate threat and one that is far away. Consider the following.

A young child's words may not mean the same as your own. The meanings children have for words are always changing with development and experience. For example, for a young child, a term like "far away" might mean a half-hour drive in the car, as opposed to another part of the world.

Don't over-explain, but do clear up confusions. If a young child says, “Do all airplanes have bombs?” that's both an inquiry and something she or he is worried about. Just answer honesty to give information. You might say, 'No, just some planes carry bombs.”

Tell your child just what he needs to know. At times, a partial truth may be more useful to your child than the whole truth. You don't need to tell a young child about probability. Explaining all about how a car engine works helps a small child very little. Talking about issues of violence and safety is similar.

Be open to your child's ideas, even if you disagree. Rather than tell her she is wrong, or correct her with your own right answer, try asking specific questions. This encourages your child to elaborate on his or her ideas, make connections and become a critical, independent thinker. Empowering a child to think for themselves will help him or her contain and diminish anxiety.

For older children the most important thing is to be honest. Do not try to teach them in a “politically correct” manner. If you feel that war is necessary, even if it means loss or life, let your children know that. If you feel that some wars are justified but not others express your feelings. If you believe that war should never be a solution to problems don’t hesitate to let them know how you feel.

Let the older child know that in an ideal world where no one hurt anyone else or where all people agreed that violence never proved who was right, war would not even be a consideration. But also let them know that we do not live in an ideal world and sometimes people choose to take a stand. Let them know that principled individuals take stands that are based on convictions of freedom, liberty, and the right of individuals to believe as they choose. Sometimes we must do what must be done to protect ourselves and others from injustice and inequality.

For children who can understand, teach them that sometimes people will risk death rather than live the living death that results when one is compelled to believe in a prescribed manner or forced to live in fear. But also let them know that when people choose to take a stand there will be those who will criticize them, hate them, or even try to destroy them or their reputation.

Sometime in life your child needs to understand that war results when one group of people feel they have the right to impose their way of thinking on another group by force. Tell them that war also happens when a group of people defend themselves from others who want to harm them.

Teach your children that America exists as a country because our forefathers chose to fight for principles of freedom, equality, and justice for all.

As your children think through the issue of war lead them to understand that that when individuals fight or try to hurt each other this is the same as war but on a smaller scale. To avoid fights between individuals we have laws. But even laws do not stop some people from wanting to hurt others. That is why we have police. In our society only police are given the right to use deadly force to assure that people are not allowed to hurt each other. In this way enforce the law that says people can’t hurt each other.

Help children understand that when individuals try to harm each other it is like a tiny war. The job of parents is to help children learn it is better to solve problems by using words rather than by fighting. If all parents can teach this principal and if all children will learn to respect each other and choose never to hurt another person intentionally, we could have a world where no wars occurred.