War and terrorism touch our children's lives, too
How to talk to kids about war and terrorism
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War and terrorism are difficult subjects to talk to children about because they
are not easy even for the parents or teachers to comprehend or
accept. However, it is needful that adults discuss these topics with children and teens because they are exposed to them from all directions.
One of the most important things is to make sure that your
child knows he can talk to you, ask questions, and open up
about his fears and other emotions. Children and teens
need a caring adult they can feel is concerned about them and
that they can trust and be open with.
Please see below for some helpful hints for how parents can talk to their children and teens about war and violence in news.
1. Listen to your child and express emotions together
- If your child knows
about war/terrorism/violent events (most likely), make a
special time to discuss these disturbing topics with your
kids, but don't force them.
Let your child express her emotions to you freely. To help, you can try to voice the emotions: ”I see you are
feeling sad/angry/scared/etc.“ If children repress fear or grief,
they may later have delayed stress symptoms, like sleeplessness, anxiety, nightmares, or even depression.
Sometimes it's easier to release the emotions via drawing,
writing, playing, or other creative work.
- Respect your child's feelings and opinions, even if
they are not like your own. Don't confront your child's way of handling events. If a child
feels reassured by saying that things are happening “very
far away,” it's usually best not to disagree. The child may
need to think about events this way to feel safe.
- You can share your own emotions and concerns (but not
overwhelming the child): “I
don't like war either. I don't think it is
right what those people are doing.” Remember always
that you are giving an example. Your child will pick up
your attitudes and reactions to events. So if you are
not shaken up by, say, violence in TV
news, your child will
learn to treat it with 'no big deal' attitude as well.
- If you don't know what else
to say, give a hug and say, ”I know this is really hard for
you and for me, but I still love you“.
2. Answer her questions
- Before answering, it is a good idea to ask your
child what she already knows about the topic in question.
- Be honest with your answers, but choose your words and
explanations according to the child's understanding, and don't
overload the child with too much information.
- Try to give answers that give hope and faith and are reassuring,
but again, don't lie or give false hope or unrealistic
- Be ready to answer the same question repeatedly. As has
been found in several studies, even if parents do talk to
children about difficult topics, children might later not
remember it. So you need to have these discussions
often. For a child, repeating a question might also be a
form of getting reassurance.
- You dont have to have all the answers. Its okay to
say, I dont know, but I will let you know as soon as I
understand it better. The most important thing is
that your children can feel you care about them.
3. What you can do at home
News: Don't let elementary school children watch news or
read newspapers without your presence. It is even better if you can
videotape the news broadcast beforehand, check it out, censor the
parts you feel are inappropriate, and then watch it together with
your child. Younger children than that shouldn't really see
news at all for all the violence they contain.
You can also
choose local news stations, which might contain less coverage of
terrorism and war, and less news about murders and violent
crimes. Videotape the news you want to watch yourself and
watch them later, or just watch night news broadcasts.
Even teenagers can be shaken up and get worried by current news
coverage and world events, so it is not safe to let them watch news
without supervision either. Their mental health is at
stake. Teens have enough to go through without overtly
worrying about world circumstances.
On the other hand, you do not want to compromise what kind of
values your children might learn from TV. Watching news might
leave the impression that war is something desirable and 'cool',
and that it is OK to use violence against people if they are abroad
or of different race or just have differing opinions. Teens
know about the war so you need to counteract that influence by
talking about what is right and what is wrong, and how violence is
not the best answer to problems in any level of human interactions.
- Let children be children. Childhood should be worriless time.
Encourage them to play ball, climb trees, or ride their bike, etc. instead of constantly
watching news or reading newspapers. Adolescents could have
some kind of hobby they enjoy and that lets them accomplish
something tangible. That can take their mind off from
disturbing events and let them develop peacefully in their own
- Keep structure. Hold to routine, schedules, and
familiar activities, which can help children feel secure. Instead of watching TV, spend time with your children in other ways
and design some fun family activities.
Do something positive. Instead of concentrating on the
people who died or all the violence, try to find something related
that can be looked upon as a positive thing. For example, talk
about the brave firefighters and policemen and nurses who helped
others during the 9-11 aftermath. You can study together
what the American Red Cross or other charities did to help in the
rescue work. Encourage your children to do good things to
- If you know a family where one
member is deployed, help the family in some way where your children
and teens can get involved. For example, offer to do a spring
cleaning or take over some food.
You can also try to find ways how children could help other children to
cope and deal with their sad feelings, or to discuss war and
violence. Search online.
- Your example as a parent/adult is outstandingly
important. Children and adolescents model after your behavior
- Seek outside help if your child shows a lot of physical
stress symptoms or seems overtly preoccupied by violent play and
games, or shows signs of suicidal thoughts.
See also Children and Fear of War and Terrorism from National Association of School Psychologists (NASAP)
Whether tragic events touch your family personally or are brought into your home via newspapers and television, you can help children cope with the anxiety that violence, death, and disasters can cause.
Listening and talking to children about their concerns can reassure them that they will be safe. Start by encouraging them to discuss how they have been affected by what is happening around them. Even young children may have specific questions about tragedies. Children react to stress at their own developmental level.
The following pointers are from
How Families Can Help Children Cope with Fear and Anxiety National Mental Health Information Center:
If you are concerned about your child's reaction to stress or trauma, call your physician or a community mental health center.
- Encourage children to ask questions. Listen to what they say. Provide comfort and assurance that address their specific fears. It's okay to admit you can't answer all of their questions.
- Talk on their level. Communicate with your children in a way they can understand. Don't get too technical or complicated.
- Find out what frightens them. Encourage your children to talk about fears they may have. They may worry that someone will harm them at school or that someone will try to hurt you.
- Focus on the positive. Reinforce the fact that most people are kind and caring. Remind your child of the heroic actions taken by ordinary people to help victims of tragedy.
- Pay attention. Your children's play and drawings may give you a glimpse into their questions or concerns. Ask them to tell you what is going on in the game or the picture. It's an opportunity to clarify any misconceptions, answer questions, and give reassurance.
- Develop a plan. Establish a family emergency plan for the future, such as a meeting place where everyone should gather if something unexpected happens in your family or neighborhood. It can help you and your children feel safer.
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