How to Talk to Your Kids About War and Conflict
Giving them room to speak is the most important part.
War is an ever changing, complex machine that seems to be more and more prevalent with each coming day. With access to social media and the ability to watch regimes change within a matter of hours live on your phone, there can be a number of psychological effects that go unnoticed if we aren’t taking care of ourselves. Those effects can be exacerbated tenfold if children are sucked into the mix, and unable to escape the constant narrative around what’s going on in the world.
The reality is that it’s not the responsibility of children to pay attention to the wars created and fought by old men. Attempting to understand the complexities of war at such a young age can lead to trauma, as well as emotional dysfunction. Talking about war with your kids is a difficult line to toe because it’s extremely important to teach them about empathy and compassion without overbearing their emotions with things they cannot truly understand.
Discussing War with Your Children
When scary or violent events occur, regardless of where they occur in the world, children may worry about their own safety. It’s important to first and foremost remind your child that the war is occurring somewhere distant, and that they are safe. This allows your child to digest and comprehend the subject without the fear that it will immediately affect them.
What we say to our children depends on their age and level of understanding. For children under 10 years old, provide general information at the level they can understand, but keep it relatively brief and spare them the frightening details. There’s obviously no need to fill them in on the horrors of war, but giving them an understanding of what’s occurring and why can build and encourage a healthy dialogue about world events.
For children aged 10 and above, take the time to converse and be sure to give them a lot of space to listen. Acknowledge that you are hearing their thoughts and understanding of the complex situation. It can be helpful as a parent to find out what they know, what they are worried or concerned about and to validate those feelings. Having an open dialogue with your child is beneficial to both of you and the development of your relationship.
Let your child speak and ask the questions they need to. It’s the most powerful way to find out what they already know about the conflict, and where most of their information is coming from. It can be helpful to focus on why they may be feeling a certain way as opposed to what’s causing it. There will never really be a good reason why war is occuring, and that’s a difficult concept to explain to a young, innocent child.
It’s also important to correct any misinformation and make sure your child is developing good information literacy habits as a foundation. War can cause a lot of confusion, especially for young children who may have classmates from those seemingly far away countries where it’s taking place. Sadly enough, it’s adults who have become hyper relaxed when it comes to issues of war and poverty. For a child, that can be shocking in and of itself.
It’s always critical to keep the conversation age-appropriate. Try your best not to feed your child too much information, or notes that may overwhelm them. You may want to explain that two countries are fighting each other, and it’s the innocent people in between that face the most harm. At the end of the day, you know your child best and will be able to ascertain just how much information you should be giving to them.
In rare cases, it’s important to watch for behavior changes. If your child complains about nightmares, stomach aches or headaches, he or she may be overly anxious and worried. Younger children may not want to leave your sight, and older kids and teens could show signs of anger or uneasiness. It’s especially important to communicate with your children’s teachers and be aware of how your child may be feeling those emotions at school.
Finally, you should always keep your own emotions in check. Children can feel emotions on a deep intuitive level. You are their biggest role model and often they are going to look at your reactions to determine how they should respond to a given situation. If possible, keep the political and war discussions away from the children and be sure not to delve into any unnecessary details when they may be listening without you knowing.
Limiting Your Children’s Exposure to News
A massive aspect of whether your child will be overwhelmed by world events depends on the amount of information they are consuming and exposed to. If they spend most of their day on social media, or studying intense topics in school, then come home to watch the news with you, it’s possible the sheer amount of information may be a cause of concern.
Limiting your child’s exposure to news is the best way to limit those overwhelming and intense emotions. They allow for the child to have a safe boundary between themselves, their childhood and the rest of the world. It’s not their responsibility to be plugged into the countless world issues they had no hand in creating. A constant stream of information can cause them to become numb, anxious or angry at the world.
Giving them space to be children, enjoy the outdoors, laugh and play games are the pillars to avoiding information burnout or overload.
It allows for you to have open and honest, as well as informative conversations about war and what is happening in the world, without risking the emotional health of your child. Taking the time to explain their own privilege to them, and focusing on the ways they may be able to help people in need can be an extremely positive consequence of these conversations. It’s important to let your child lead the conversation and discover their own education about the world around them.