RAA: How To Tell Your Kids About The War
Program Director, From The HeArt Art Therapy Program
Talking to Your Child about War...and Peace. It is not easy to talk to a child about war.
Parents and teachers work to create a safe and nurturing place for children to grow and learn. Today it is harder to preserve that sense of security as we seek ways to protect our children from frightening and confusing world events. It is not easy for adults to process the meaning behind terrorist threats and weapons of mass destruction so how do we explain the harsh reality of war to our children?
First, it is important to examine your own feelings, beliefs and opinions about the war in Iraq. You should recognize your own anxieties, fears and concerns before addressing those of your child.
Be aware that the reality of our country at war has triggered many of the emotions we felt after 9/11 (The World Trade Center Attack) and 11/12 (The crash of American Airlines Flight 587 in Belle Harbor).
Children need to know they are safe. Offer verbal reassurance that you will protect them.
Talk about what measures are taken in school (security, safety drills) to keep them safe.
Reassure them that people are working around the clock in our community/city to protect us and keep us safe.
Ask questions to find out what they know but do not force discussion of the events of the war. Be a good listener. Respect their questions and observations. Avoid being judgmental.
Keep your answers short and honest. It's okay to say 'I don't know' or to express uncertainty but at the same time reassure them that they can be certain you are there to protect and love them.
Make yourself available to listen to your child - sit on the edge of the bed for an extra 5 minutes at night. Give more hugs during the day.
Maintain regular routines and schedules. Knowing what to expect is reassuring and comforting for both children and adults.
Limit and/or monitor exposure to media (television, radio, internet, and newspaper) coverage of the war. The images and reports of battles, POW's, and cas-ualties are disturbing and frightening.
Focus on positive eve-nts. Find good things that are happening in the news.
Be aware of adult conversations that might be overheard by children.
Avoid labeling people as 'bad'. Instead talk about 'bad or harmful actions'. This can help your child understand that people can choose their behavior.
Children show stress in various ways: headaches, nightmares, tantrums, being distracted and unfocused. Be aware that what may seem like misbehavior or inattentiveness can be symptomatic of stress.
Use stories or artwork to share or enhance conversations with your child.
Encourage exercise and active play, and provide opportunities for fun and laughter.
Address the issue of bias, especially toward Arab-Americans. Children sho-uld know that their Arab/Iraqi/Muslim classmates are not bad people. This is a good opportunity to discuss prejudice and stereotyping.
You are your child's primary teacher. Teach them respect for differences and to honor diversity. What you do, think and say are powerful influences on your child.
"Whatever we feel is happening in Iraq, 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."