How do you explain war to your child?
My knee jerk reaction is to try to shield them from the horror. There is nothing pretty about war. What is going on in Syria is unbelievably sad, and angering. To see people suffer, lose there homes and have to flee their countries in order to survive is unfathomable. Seeing innocent people killed, particularly the children by chemical weapons is devastating.
My boys have been wondering what is going on in Syria and why. It’s hard to explain. It’s ultimately about people not being able to get along and resorting to violence instead of finding peaceful solutions. I get that solving these types of problems aren’t easy, but I really want my boys to know that war is not the answer and never will be.
My youngest son got some exposure to war recently in his social studies class. The class was studying Native Americans and their struggle to maintain control of their native land from the settlers. Each class member was assigned a position — you either were a Native American tribe member or a member of the American military. My son was part of a tribe. The class was given different situations and asked how they wanted to handle it. In one situation, both groups wanted a piece of land and neither was willing to give the land to the other. Their choice was to 1) sign a treaty that allowed them to share the land, or 2) decide to fight the other for the land. My son said, “Mom, I signed the treaty, but others kids in the tribe decided they wanted to fight.” “What happened? ” I asked. “Well, I lived,” said my son, “those who fought died.” Wow, I thought, this is a pretty good lesson he’s learning. The next challenge the class was faced with was 1) stay on the Reservation and be safe, or 2) fight and have to get your land back. “What did you choose?” I asked my son. “Well, I was going to go back to the Reservation because I wanted to be safe, but got accidentally shot by one of my classmates who thought I was trying to leave the Reservation,” he said. The idea that my son got ‘shot’ by friendly fire didn’t go unnoticed. Seems this class activity was a little more realistic than I would have thought. “What did the lesson teach you?” I inquired. “Well, fighting almost always results in death. You might as well find a way to make peace.” Wow. Nine years old and he’s already figured this out. I wish some of our world leaders could.
How do you talk to your child about war? How do you help them understand unexplainable things?
It’s kind of hard to explain to small children. Maybe it’s best to introduce it when they’re a little bit old enough to understand the concept. We all learn about it anyway and we all learn about the gruesome realities of war.
Age and ability to understand complex topics should certainly be taken into consideration. What I appreciate most about my sons is that they see the situation as most any child does — solvable. It’s more challenging for me to explain why people don’t want to work together to come to a peaceful resolution. I’ve resorted to pointing out human shortcomings around resources, power and money, and encourage my sons to be different. Be the change that is needed without violence. We’ll see how that plays out as they continue to grow.