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Talking to Kids About War
by Naomi Drew, M.A.
author of Hope and Healing


War on the horizon, bellicose words in the news, finger-pointing headlines. How do we talk to our children about all this in ways that make sense? How do we empower our children in the face of such negativity and gloom?

We live in a complex world and the motivation to use violence to solve problems needs to be seriously questioned. It is essential that we help our children perceive peaceful alternatives. We need to use these troubled times as an opportunity to create a new vision for the future.

What you can do:

- Let your children know that violence is a choice, not an inevitability. Share this wonderful quote from the philosopher Norman Cousins: “War is an invention of the human mind. The human mind can also invent peace.” Ask them what they think peace would look like.

- Let your children know that war is not the only available option. Share this documented fact with them: Throughout our history as a species there have been more incidences of peace than war. People have found ways to work and live cooperatively, and even though there have been wars, countries that were once were enemies have learned to coexist peacefully side by side. Examples are France and Germany, the United States and Russia.

- Allow your children to speak their fears and trepidation's. Many children have no hope for peace. If your child is one of them, or, if he believes war is the only answer, let him express what he feels. Then ask what other things might help create peace.

- If your child asks, “What about bad people, who try to hurt us, like Sadaam Hussein?” The answer to this question will vary according to the age of your child. Young children need lots of reassurance. Tell them that Mom and Dad will always protect them and when they are in school, their teachers and principal will do everything possible to keep them safe. Then, tell them about the United Nations and stress that the UN was formed to help the countries of the world live together in peace. Let them know that the United Nations is working on exactly that right now.

For older children, let them know that there are other ways we can deal with Sadaam and people like him without bombing a country. Other things we can do are:

1. Work with our United Nations and with other countries to contain, even arrest, those who commit crimes against humanity, as we did with Slobodan Milosovich. He was captured and tried in the World Court and is now in jail.
2. Work together with our allies to deal with people who might be threats.
3. Be willing to not build as many nuclear weapons so that other countries don’t feel they have to build them to keep up with us.

What else?

- If your children ask, “What if another country attacks us?” tell them that by working with as many countries as possible, eradicating hunger, poverty, and preventable diseases, it will be less likely that this will happen. Tell them that is very important that all of us work to prevent the conditions that lead to war, and these are some of the root causes.

Also let your children know that there may be certain instances where we have no choice but to protect ourselves like if we were directly attacked, but this isn't happening now. War should be the very last option, not the first. We have the ability to create peace, and it starts with each of us.

- Tell you children that what we put our energy into is what we get. Over the past 70 years or so, our country has become very focused on war. Huge amounts of our financial resources, technological advances, and intellectual energy have gone toward developing the ways of war. We have neglected creating the ways of peace. If we put as much energy into developing the ways of peace, we would stop seeing war as the only option. But there are people and institutions working on this right now. Visit the following websites with your children to learn more about them:

UNICEF’s Voices of Youth program
http://www.unicef.org/voy/meeting/meethome.html
Helps children learn about what affects other kids in today's world; includes information on children and war, children rights, and other important issues.

People for Peace
http://hometown.aol.com/pforpeace/index.htm
Includes stories and activities for kids on creating more peace in their communities, schools and world

Y2KYouth
Y2KYouth.org
Motto: “It only takes one child to educate a village.”A clearing house of information on peace, violence, and service for teens.

Youth M-Power
www.youthm-power.org
For kids who want to make peace. “M” stands for mediation. Links kids nationwide, provides resources and activities.

The Carter Center
www.cartercenter.org
Working to set up democratic governments, eradicate hunger, and other roots of war and violence. Mission - “To reduce conflict and to alleviate suffering in the world.”

The Hague Appeal for Peace
www.haguepeace.org
Goal -- to and create a culture of peace, and prevent and transform violent conflict. Sponsors conferences, peace education programs, offer materials on teaching peace. You can order their free e-newlsetter by e-mailing this address: hap@ialana.org

The United States Institute of Peace
www.usip.org
Mission: “to strengthen the nation's capabilities to promote the peaceful resolution of international conflicts.”

International Peace Academy
www.ipacademy.org
Promotes the prevention and settlement of armed conflicts between and within states through policy research and development.

Remind your children that these programs are just beginning. We’ll see more and more of them when more people demand them.

- Share this quote with your children from author Harold Kushner: “The small choices and decisions we make a hundred times a day add up to determining the kind of world we live in.” Ask them what choices we can make each day to create the kind of world we want to live in?

- Let your children know that countries sometimes decide to fight wars when they don’t see any other alternatives, but the alternatives are always there. By living peacefully in our homes, schools, and communities we can start changing the world on person at a time. How can you start doing this right in your own home?

- Peace can been achieved through the 5 C’s: commitment, cooperation, communication, compromise, and conflict resolution. Ask your child to imagine the combined power of people all over the world, living peace, demanding it from their governments, and seeking smart but peaceful ways to deal conflict. Share the story below of the Danish resistance movement from the wonderful book, “A Force More Powerful,” by
Peter Ackerman and Jack DuVall.

During World War II, the people of Denmark decided to use their brains instead of violence to defy the Nazi’s. The Danes worked together to devise a strategy that defied the Germans who intended to kill the Jewish people of Denmark. How did they do it? By standing strong and asserting their power peacefully: they had mass strikes and protests, they created a secret system for saving the lives of Jewish citizens, they refused to honor curfews, they had students refuse to speak German in language classes, and they even had Danish songfests throughout the nation to show strength and unity.

Through the combination of all of these acts of resistance, the power and unity of the Danes pushed back the Nazi's. By the time October 1st, 1943, rolled around -- the date the Nazi's ordered the arrest of 7000 Jews -- a system was firmly in place for saving them. Danish organizations throughout the country sheltered Jewish families and shuttled them to the coast, where fishing boats helped them escape to freedom. As a result, close to 6600 of 7000 people, whose lives were marked for death, were saved. This happened without the use of violence.

- Most importantly, let your children know that we ALL need to be part of the solution. No matter how young or old you are, you have the power to make a difference. Ask what they think your family can do to create more peace personally and globally. Brainstorm together then choose a project.

Remember, peace begins with each of us.






Naomi Drew is recognized around the world as an expert on conflict resolution and peacemaking in schools and homes. Hailed as visionary, her work has enabled educators, parents, and people of all ages to live together more cooperatively.

Her work has been recognized by educational leaders throughout the country. People of all ages have attested to durable changes in their relationships after applying the principles Drew outlines. Her work has been featured in magazines, newspapers, radio, and TV and she currently serves as a parenting expert for “Classroom Close-ups,” a public television show.

She is the author of four books, serves as a consultant to school districts, leads seminars, and runs parenting courses. Her latest book is Hope and Healing: Peaceful Parenting in an Uncertain World. Visit www.learningpeace.com for more information on Naomi Drew and her work.



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