While many adults are glued to network news for play-by-plays of the war in Iraq, children need ways to talk about and cope with war and violence.
Experts agree that talking about current events can help children feel more secure about what is happening.
The Christian Science Monitor reported that broaching the subject at all should depend on several factors, including the child’s age and temperament, and what he or she might have heard at school, on the bus or on the sports field.
Diane Levin, a professor at Wheelock College in Boston, author of the forthcoming Teaching Young Children in Violent Times, and the mother of a 20-year-old son, told the Monitor that if a child under six years old does not bring up the topic of war, then the parent shouldn’t either.
Levin also said that until a child is a young teen, the details should be left out. Too much detail, she said, could be scary and too complex for a younger child.
Parents should also keep their political views out of any discussion of war until their children reach their pre-teen and teenage years and ask for their parent’s opinion.
The Internet also has a wide range of helpful hints for parents who wish to talk to their children about the war with Iraq.
AboutOurKids.org has a question-and-answer section to help parents talk to their kids.
The site tackles questions about talking to kids about Saddam Hussein, what details to share, knowing someone directly involved in the conflict, letting kids watch the news and many other topics.
Children relate to what is happening in different ways, AboutOurKids.org reported.
Young children, the group said, are usually concerned about separation from parents, about good and bad, and about fears of punishment.
“They may ask questions about children they see on the news who are alone, and worry about who will take care of them,” read the organization’s site. “They may bring up issues related to their own good and bad behavior, believing it to be related to events.”
Middle-school children are more concerned with peer relationships and tend to focus on issues of fairness and punishment.
The site pointed out that teens consider larger issues related to ethics, politics and even being called into direct service. “Teenagers, like adults, may become reflective about life and re-examine their own priorities and interests,” AboutOurKids.org reported.
Educators for Social Responsibility provides educators with resources on how to tackle the issue of war in the classroom.
ESR recommends teachers ask open-ended questions to generate discussion, acknowledge students’ feelings, listen actively, allow students to discuss issues in small groups and be careful in sharing one’s own opinion.
So what is a parent to do with all the war images on television?
C.T. O’Donnell, president of KidsPeace, a national organization that helps children in crisis, told the Christian Science Monitor that TV news can be traumatic for children.
Following the Sept. 11 attacks, for instance, O’Donnell said some children who saw replays of the planes hitting the World Trade Towers thought each replay was live. Instead of two planes striking the buildings, many children thought several planes had hit the towers, depending on how many times they had seen the event replayed on television.
O’Donnell told the Monitor that at seven or eight years old, children are fine to watch television if parents are watching with them and are prepared to answer questions.
For older children, O’Donnell said, watching the news with their parents can provoke lively discussion. However, O’Donnell said parents should limit exposure to violent images and talk of war.
Jodi Mathews is BCE’s communications director.