Does talking with children about the war make it worse?
How do I bring up the conversation?
Should I tell them how I feel?
How can I help a child when I am feeling helpless myself?
How much should I tell them?
Children can be overwhelmed and confused during stressful times. Having
limited experiences with raising children during times of war, many
adults may find it helpful to have some paths for talking with children.
This workshop will explore developmentally appropriate responses. Active
listening, empowering children, modeling, and emotional development
will be discussed in a format that will supply adults with skills to
use with children.
2. Talking with Children
5. What To Do
the US, this war is more real for today's child than any before it
Because many children have the 9/11 terrorist attacks permanently burned
into their heads, war is no longer an abstraction. The frightened adults
running from a collapsing building, planes smashing into buildings,
and bleeding people breathing soot filled air while searching for safe
shelter, are all video clips our children have witnessed many times
in the past few years. Add to this the fact that this war is being shown
in real time battle scenes. Minute by minute, the world is seeing the
most brutal side of warfare. Scenes normally seen by a handful of people
are being broadcast into every household. Our kids are in a headset
that has never been the norm before this time.
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2 - Talking with Children
Encourage your child to talk to you.
Listen to their concerns, then reassure them.
Give children honest information about the events.
your children know adults are taking care of them. Above
all, in any fearful time, children need to know that they are safe and
that their parents or guardians will take care of their needs.
with children about war. When a child asks, "What is a war?"
respond with "What do you think a war is?" This way we can
follow their lead. If the reply is, "I don't know," then follow
up with age appropriate, simplified answers.
a good listener. More important than talking to children is listening
to children. We may be surprised to find out how much they already know.
School buses, playgrounds, overhearing adults, and exposure to the news
are all ways and places children pick up on current events. Often this
information is misunderstood. What words and events mean in the adult
world are often different from what they mean to a specific child. One
child misunderstood the word hijacker. He thought the word was kayaker.
Such an small error to make; such a huge misunderstanding to have.
need to know that you understand that what is happening is confusing
and complicated. Include an appreciation for their willingness to
talk with you about it.
answering children's questions, find out where they are coming from.
Then answer their questions succinctly and specifically. Starting
a civics lecture is unhelpful and unnecessary. Adults need to find other
adults to discuss the war, not children.
|When Fred Rogers
was a boy and would see scary things on the news, his mother would
say to him, "Look for the helpers. You will always find
people who are helping."
Fred Rogers was a boy and would see scary things on the news, his mother
would say to him, "Look for the helpers. You will always
find people who are helping."
not sure. Let me find out."
"Good question. I need some time to figure out how I can explain
"What do you think about this?"
"I don't know. How could we find out?"
talking with children about war, check to see if stereotyping is an
Include the idea that most people in Iraq don't hurt other people and
they believe in many of the things we do. Include ideas like the problem
with overgeneralizing; "If one child from your neighborhood broke
a window, it would be a mistake to say children in that neighborhood
are window breakers."
children at play.
Play is the most important way a child makes sense of their world. Actively
observing children working through challenges gives adults insight into
what the child is trying to comprehend. Interrupting play usually is
not helpful. Entering into play to support and be a part of the child's
world takes skill and thought. If the play appears to need assistance,
an open-ended question may be enough.
Open-ended questions are a way for adults to support, challenge,
explore or augment a child's interest. O.E.Q.s also help the adult
find out what a child is thinking about. With O.E.Q.s the child's
agenda and ideas should be the focus of the questions.
questions cause a child to think or ponder about the question.
may know an answer for the question, but are looking to the
child to think about an issue or subject.
question needs to be asked genuinely.
is no right or wrong answer to an open-ended question.
Open-ended questions often include: how? what? could? would?
Closed-ended questions often include: is? are? do? did?
you tell me about this? What's happening here? How could you figure
with children about your feelings can be helpful IF,
you are honest and concise.
you are using descriptions like sad and worried rather than frightened
and furious. Having
a child see fearful adults diminishes the amount of support the adults
can offer the child.
You are not using the child for your own support.
children are not trying to protect you from your own feelings. Some
children may worry about talking with adults because it might make
them feel bad.
if we don't talk directly to children about war and terrorism, they
are aware that it is there. Young children are able to pick up on
a stressed, fearful, sad, angry adult. They know something is wrong.
Older children overhear adults talking, the news, other children discussing
the events. Trying to protect children from the community's heightened
state of alert may give an unintended message; we don't talk about those
things. This denies the child a chance to be supported in working with
we don't talk to children about what is happening, they will still
get the information, but through sources that may not demonstrate our
beliefs or values. Discussing the situation honestly, simply, and at
their level can mean the difference between being overwhelmed and feeling
older children, if parents don't talk about the subject, kids may be
left with misinformation.
younger the child, the more egocentric they are. My safety. My parents.
My family and friends. Are they safe? Young children feel that things
are very personal. These children need concrete ideas to understand.
The older children include others in their concern. Children who live
in Iraq. Families with soldiers in Iraq. Innocent bystanders in war.
Are they safe?
Early elementary school
children usually are concerned about separation and safety.
school children are usually troubled by the fairness and the
care of other people issues.
students are often involved in the ethical challenges presented.
out what children know is helpful in determining your response to their
questions. "What is a war?" can be answered with, "Tell
me what you know about it." Then the adult can decide on the best
response to the question. It is much like the joke, "Where did
I come from?" After the parent responds with graphic sexual information
the child says, "Oh, I thought I was born in New Hampshire."
a question like, "Will kids get killed?" an answer that
reassures the child is better than plain, cold facts. "People who
are fighting in wars don't want to hurt children." If pushed for
more information, honesty counts, "I am afraid some children may
get killed. It is very sad."
you be killed?" "I have no reason to think that I would
be killed. We live a long way away from Iraq. That is where the war
Talking about war requires more than one conversation. Kids have
short attention spans. Children may only want to talk briefly, but for
can tell children war is supposed to be productive, helping to prevent
bad things from happening in the future.
the vast majority of children think that war is bad. They have been
taught that fighting is not a good way to solve problems. Many have
been disciplined for treating others aggressively. If parents disagree,
finding ways to differ and be respectful are important. Talking with
children today about important issues is setting them up for future
discussion that you want to be a part of. Try to enter into a disagreement
to understand the other side. Be careful not to give the message, "You
don't know what you are talking about."
careful when talking about the other side. Children can better understand
"bad actions" than "bad people."
children choose not to think about war. Respect that decision.
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3 - TV
the news rated X for young children."
Dr. T. Barry Brazelton
Limit your children's exposure to broadcast news media.
The television industry asks that children tune in to cartoons and tune
out war coverage. The best bet, turn the TV off. Even programs
that are deemed appropriate for children may be interrupted for news
updates, inappropriate commercials and the like. Studies done after
9/11 show a direct correlation between television watching and increased
chances of post-traumatic stress disorder. Other studies also show that
both boys and girls who watch violent TV programs run an increased risk
of aggressive adult behavior, including spousal abuse and criminal offenses,
no matter how they act in childhood.
children do not understand geography, in their head a bombed building
could be down the street. The impact of television is huge on children.
They can easily develop fears and concerns that are out of proportion
to what is really happening.
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4 - Emotions
a child is scared, angry, frustrated, stressed, overwhelmed, or sad,
he needs the same thing, a calm adult. Becoming alarmed or overacting
does little to help a child.
can safely express sadness and concern without exposing children to
fear and doom. Be especially patient with your child.
older children you may use war discussions to talk about your values.
Make sure to leave most of the conversation in their hands. Typically,
having time for parents and pre-teenagers to examine moral beliefs is
few and far between.
children learn to own and work with all feelings constructively, especially
children express fear, it is typical for them to demonstrate sadness
and anger. Parents may feel they need to protect children from these
feelings. This is unhelpful and impossible. Emotional development includes
acceptance of all feelings and positive ways to work with all emotions.
Through modeling, parents can show children ways to cope with every
don't have to fix the way children feel. Accepting, respecting,
and supporting all reactions helps children develop positive coping
skills. Children are as different in their reactions as adults. Some
children are extra sensitive to war, violence, and terrorism, and are
stressed more easily. These children need thoughtful adults who understand
them. Especially for these children, the TV media is harmful. Exposure
can rob them of their need to feel safe.
children to "be brave" may have unintended consequences.
Take their fears seriously and let them know you are there to help them.
concern for children is that they are safe. Reinforce the message.
You will help protect them.
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5 - What To Do
Continue with daily routines.
Comfort and reassure children through cuddling, holding, and
snuggling as well as verbal support.
Cut down on long separations when possible.
Encourage lots of time to play with open-ended materials, rescue
equipment, toy medical supplies, art materials (clay, sand,
water, playdough, markers, paint, crayons, wood & nails,
blocks). When talking to children about their art rather than
saying, "What is it?" or "I like your picture,"
it may be better to start the conversation with "Can you
tell me about this?"
Write a child's story about stressful events.
Write a story about resolving an event or feeling (an issue
Shut off the news on TV and the radio.
Give them extra attention.
Be gentle when correcting behaviors. Children have a greater
chance at learning through guidance than through punishment.
Allow a child to repeat their telling of the events.
Encourage children to talk about what's important to them. If
someone is not ready to open up, honor that.
Shut off the news on TV and the radio.
Ask open-ended questions.
Help children discover ways they can be helpful.
Promote physical activity as a way to work with stress.
Else Can I Do?
Watch the news when children are not present. Limit your own TV viewing.
When talking with children, stress that they are safe in their homes,
schools and neighborhoods.
Like answering questions about sex, children need to hear pieces that
they are capable of understanding not the whole story in one fell
Keep your answers brief and simple. Allow for many opportunities to
talk. Make lots of chances for the child to revisit a discussion.
Expose children to positive stories about volunteers, heros, etc...
do I explain it to the children when I don't understand it myself? The
problem here is that if we don't talk/listen to children about terrorism
and war, a dangerous cycle of silence can be the result.
who promise that nothing bad will happen risk losing the children's
trust when those children learn parents cannot control all situations.
A better approach is reassuring children that adults will do everything
they can to keep the children safe. You may want to include specific
precautions being taken, i.e., school's safety drills, mom and dad having
cell phones, police being available.
effective cure for feeling powerless is action. Adults can take
action and support children to take action. Empowering ways to work
being helpful in your community
raising money for victim relief
keeping a journal
writing letters (to the editor, friends, military personnel)
making emergency plans
sending a card to "any service member mail" or someone
who is known
to the child/family/friend/neighborhood.
By not talking to children about war, there may be an unintended
message that it isn't okay to talk about things like this. This may
reinforce the feeling of helplessness. Children need to know that it
is normal to feel frightened. As strange as that may sound, it can be
reassuring to hear.
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6 - Stress
all stress is bad. It can be motivating and empowering. Stress can also
be overwhelming and disempowering when,
there is not enough support.
there are too many stressors.
the stress coping mechanisms are under developed.
are numerically squared. One stress may be manageable. But two starts
to feel like 2x2 or 4. Two stressors can feel like four things are wrong.
When we start to approach 4 or 5 actual stressors, they can feel like
16 or 25 things are going wrong. One stressful event will make another
one more difficult to deal with.
don't just use words to tell us they are stressed. Behaviors are
often better indicators, especially for young children. Regressive behaviors
like bed-wetting, thumb sucking, separation problems, or unable/unwilling
to fall asleep alone, as well as other behaviors like irritability,
nightmares, academic problems, and aggressive behaviors, are typical
signs that a child is stressed.
things are against children handling stress well.
Children do not have mature reasoning skills.
2. Children have a hard time looking at the big picture and understanding
cause and effect.
3. Children have not had the years needed to become competent stress
children handle stress by,
Modeling. How do you handle stress? Children look to their
important adults to learn about how to handle situations.
Get into the child's understanding. Remember what it was like
when you were their age. Tailor your communication to reflect their
Talk with your child about their concerns and challenges. Communication
is a good source of comfort, information, and security.
Be truthful without adding too many details.
Involve your child in doing something about the stressor. "What
can we do about this?" "What do you think would be helpful
Make sure that physical activity is built into the day. This
helps inner tension to be released.
Physical closeness helps children feel secure. Hand holding,
hugs, lap sitting, and snuggles reinforce to children, "I am
here for you."
Keep routines, routine. Accustomed actions help alleviate the
fear of the unknown. Same pre-bedtime rituals, same dinner schedules,
and same day-to-day events, help build security especially during
stressful times. Children take comfort in things that are predictable
and familiar. It is helpful to keep things as normal as possible.
Release tension - talking, playing (art activities, dramatic
play), doing physical activities, writing stories and letters, making
emergency plans, giving blood, making cards, watching family videos,
designing leaflets, attending vigils are all way to de-stress.
adults ignore difficult issues can aggravate a child's coping abilities.
Traumatic Stress Disorder
If the signs of stress do not subside or if they get worse, it
may be time to find additional support for the child, i.e., counselors,
clergy, social workers. Increased anxiety, distraction, fear,
or hopelessness are signs that additional help is needed. Typical
signs of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) include:
sleep problems including nightmares and waking early
flashbacks and replays which are unable to be shut off
intrusive, troubling images
inability to concentrate
exaggerated startle response
irritability, sudden intense anger and occasional violent
avoidance of things that remind of the event
hypersensitivity - almost every remark is perceived as
unexplained joint and muscle pain
nervousness and anxiety
excessive levels of shame, embarrassment and guilt
low self esteem, low self confidence, low self worth
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7 - Finale
GREAT care of yourself. You can only take care of children as well as
you take care of yourself. Do things that help you feel better. This
allows you to enjoy doing the things that help make your child feel
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