Helping Children Cope with War

Kids are scared. Parents are too. Concrete ways to help our children and ourselves.

War has entered the consciousness of America and is now on the minds of people young and old. How do we talk to our children about war in ways that make sense? How do we empower our children and give them hope?

If your children are 7 and under, first find out what they already know. Some children are confused and misinformed. They might have heard things from their friends or have caught snippets of information on TV. In the simplest way, try to clear up their misconceptions and answer their questions without giving them any more information than you have to.

Even if your child doesn't bring up the issue of war, check in with him anyway. You'd be surprised at what even young children are picking up from their friends. For example a mother recently e-mailed me saying that her 4-year-old daughter asked if the war would be coming to their house. The father of a 6-year-old said his daughter was worried about the war because she didn't know how to be a soldier.

Open the conversation, and then listen with compassion. Offer reassurances as best as you can, and give as many extra hugs and kisses as possible. No matter what's going on in the world, our affection and loving presence is the best tonic of all. This is true for children of all ages, not just our little ones.

Rules of thumb for kids of every age:

  • Listen with all your heart to what they have to say. Whether you agree or disagree, listen with an open mind and empathize with their feelings. Don't try to talk them out of their fears, but don't focus on them either. Be as positive as you can and remind your children that there have been no further attacks on our country since September 11th. It's okay to admit that you're a little nervous too, but end the conversation on a note of hope.
  • Let them know they are safe. For young children, tell them that Iraq is very, very far away, too far for their planes or missiles to reach us here. Let them know that you will do everything in your power to protect them, as are the people at their school.
  • For older children, talk about how our government and police are doing so much to protect us-checkpoints in airports, heightened security, intelligence agencies working together to track terrorist activities.
  • Allow an outlet for their fears. Talking, journaling, drawing, painting, music, and physical activity release fears from the darkness of silence into the light of day. Don't be alarmed if your child's writing, drawing or play includes images of war and death. This is how children work through fear. Be aware, however, if your child becomes overly preoccupied with negative thoughts and images. Too much is a sign of deeper anxiety. In that case, seek the guidance of a professional.
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