Talking with Kids about War

by: Alvin Poussaint, M.D. and Susan Linn, Ed.D.
These tips can help you prepare for a conversation about war with your kids.
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Talking with Kids about War

"Why aren't they using their words?" a 7-year-old asks her mother about a bomb in the Middle East. In another house, an 11-year-old asks, "Are we going to be bombed? Or maybe Washington?" She's worried about her safety.

It's painfully difficult to talk with children about war. And given kids' access to media, it's almost impossible to protect them from frightening and confusing world events.

What we say to our children depends on their age, the questions they ask, and our own political and moral beliefs. Whatever we feel about what's happening in Iraq and other countries, we want to encourage children to continue to be curious about the world, to value peaceful resolutions to problems, and to feel free to come to us with questions and concerns.

General guidelines:

  • Try to find out what your children already know about the war situation, and how they found out about it.

  • Let them know that you understand that what is happening with the war is confusing and complicated.

  • Let them know you're glad to be talking with them about it. Share whatever your opinions and feelings are about bombings and attacks in the war. Allow your children to express their own opinions.

  • Ask your children if they are worried and/or frightened about war. Even if they say, "No," you are giving them permission to have those feelings and to talk about them if they choose. In the U.S., we can reassure our children that they are safe and not likely to be bombed.

  • Whatever our feelings were about Sadam Hussein or Osama bin Laden, our children should know that their Iraqi or Muslim classmates are not bad people. This is a good opportunity to debunk stereotyping.

  • If children want to help children who are war victims, encourage their concern and compassion. We can let them know about the International Red Cross, which can help victims of any country, even during a war.

Children under age 7 need special considerations:

  • Keep them away from television news. Commercial programming may be interrupted by frightening news bulletins. Horrific images can cause nightmares and may awaken other fears and anxieties and they may need comforting.

  • Young children may not talk directly about the war, but their fears might come out in play, providing opportunities for discussion.

  • Reinforce the importance of using words to resolve conflicts. However you feel about the bombings, we should help children understand that, usually, violence is not a constructive option.

Special considerations for children of the military
Children will have understandable fears for the safety of parents sent overseas. Parents and relatives at home can help by letting children honestly express feelings and concerns. Frequent telephone calls, letters and/or email are essential in helping children feel connected to, and loved by, absent parents.