The United States is in a very long period of conflict as it attempts
to fight the war on terrorism. Many troops have been deployed, and new
men and women are sent overseas as others return. Government officials
have spoken frequently about the need for military actions. The president
has described some of the evil actions of the countries with which we
do not understand the politics of this situation. For many, especially
the youngest children, war is a distant event, and they do not pay attention
to it. But many others are likely to be confused. They see parents being
deployed and leaving their children behind. Seeing children in the news
attracts other children’s attention. They may wonder if their own
parents will be called to go away. As they hear about deaths of soldiers
they may become especially worried. Older children may be confused when
they hear differing opinions and recommendations. Many words are being
used that are not familiar to children.
parents are being deployed
children whose parents are being deployed, there are special pressures.
They need to deal with secrecy, uncertainty, separation, and major changes
in their lifestyle. They will not know where the family member is going
or when or even if he or she will return. The remaining parent needs to
take on different roles. If both parents are in the military, the children
may need to adjust to living with other relatives or substitute parents.
They need to adjust again when the deployed family member returns home.
reservists are deployed, it is likely that they will not find themselves
in the midst of a community that understands and provides supports for
them. They may need to work harder to find help than personnel on bases
or in military communities. It may be especially difficult for children
who do not have any friends facing the same pressures.
may be confused
children are likely to be confused by the current events. Their confusion
may vary depending on their age. Younger children will hear a number of
unfamiliar words and may not understand what they mean. Many children
may confuse Afghanistan, Iraq, and Iran. They may confuse Osama bin Laden
with Sadaam Hussein and other leaders. They also may have a hard time
understanding why people are still dying if the war was said to be over.
are good reasons for children’s confusion; many adults are confused
as well. Children, especially younger ones, also confuse fantasy with
reality and historic events and figures with current ones. They may connect
unrelated current events, such as assuming that the Columbia shuttle disaster
or the Northeast blackout was related to the conflict with Iraq. They
may be more sensitized to war and violence in general after the events
of Sept. 11, 2001.
may be a new topic for parents
parents do not include war in their daily conversations with children.
Some never talk about it. Researchers at Purdue University conducted interviews
with children and parents beginning several months after the Sept. 11
attacks. Almost 25 percent of parents reported that they never talked
to their children about war. Over 40 percent of children reported that
they hadn’t had such conversations with their parents. This means
that some parents thought they talked about it, but the children either
didn’t remember or didn’t recognize the topic. So some parents
may need to discuss this topic with their children for the first time,
and others may need to repeat some things they have said before.
are contrasting attitudes about the war
people are working hard to prevent or stop war, while others are actively
supporting military action. Children will hear about protests and peace
marches, and they will hear about speeches and actions to support military
action. They will probably want to know how their parents feel about it.
Parents should explain how they feel. They can describe what action they
are taking. They also can explore with the children how the children can
express their own opinions without hurting others. This is a great opportunity
to teach children how to get along with people even if they do not agree.
parents are against the war
vast majority of children think that war is bad. So they may be comfortable
with the decision of parents to oppose war. But they will hear many things
in support of war. It can be difficult to speak out against a government
decision. Children may not understand how parents can support their country
and still disagree with its actions. Parents can talk with the children
about the meaning of democracy and the reasons why the parents are against
the children also oppose the war, it may be helpful to talk to them about
expressing their opinions. They are likely to have friends who support
the war. Parents can help them learn how to disagree without being disrespectful
or disloyal. They can give them opportunities to have a voice. Parents
can encourage them to draw pictures or write letters to decision-makers.
Let them participate in demonstrations if they are interested.
parents support war efforts
need to keep in mind that children in general think war is bad. Most parents
also think that war is bad, but they may think that it is the best approach
in some situations. Children have a hard time understanding that a bad
thing might be a good choice sometimes. Parents should explain the reasons
they support this war. They should be careful not to teach the children
that violence is always the best way to solve problems, though.
the children also support the war efforts, it would be good to help them
learn how to express their opinion while also supporting others. They
are likely to have some friends who are against war. They can learn to
listen to other people, even if they disagree. Help them find ways to
have a voice.
and talk. Let children know that it is okay to talk about war and peace.
Listen for misunderstandings. Let the children guide you in the discussions.
Remember that this will probably not be only one discussion.
Consider using books and art to communicate. Children may be able to express
ideas in drawings that they cannot put into words. Reading a book about
a topic makes it less threatening. It is easier to talk about someone
else than to talk about our own feelings.
Be careful about painting the other side as the enemy. It is more helpful
to children to talk about “bad actions” rather than “bad
people.” Help them understand that people can choose their behaviors.
Even if people have done something bad in the past, they can choose to
do something good in the future.
Help children understand that the United States is not angry with the
Iraqi, Afghani, Iranian, or Korean people. Explain that the leaders of
our country are upset with the decisions of the other governments.
Help children understand religious differences. Explain that Islam is
a religion that is practiced by many people in the world. Help them understand
that most Muslim people are peace-loving and friendly.
Reassure children without ignoring the horrors of war. Talk about what
you and others will do to keep the child safe. Talk about how far away
the military actions probably will stay. But do not ignore the terrible
things that will happen in the war. Studies show that children care about
people in other countries in addition to those in their own country. Support
their caring attitudes.
Teach children about what can be done instead of war. Talk about alternatives.
Explain what governments and people can do to make war less likely.