Helping Children Cope With War
by Naomi Drew, M.A.
author of Hope and Healing
Patience, my heart:
Nights length will pass.
Shall see tomorrow rise
With shining faces.
- Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Pakistani poet
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. Youd 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 didnt know how to be a soldier.
Open the conversation, then listen with compassion. Offer reassurances as best as you can, and give as many extra hugs and kisses as possible. No matter whats 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.
Four important 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. Dont try to talk them out of their fears, but dont 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. Its okay to admit that youre 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, Dont be alarmed if your childs writing, drawing or play include 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.
- Let your kids still be kids. Regardless of whats going on in the world, make sure your children have time to do the carefree things that are a normal part of a childs life. Make sure they have time for fun, leisure, and innocence.
Be aware of signs of overwhelm. If your child has been through any major loss or trauma already, reactions to the situation now may be intensified . The following symptoms, if consistent, in combination, or a marked change from previous behavior, would be worth following up:
Ages 3 - 5 -
- physical complaints like stomach aches and headaches
- fearfulness and feelings of not being safe
- stranger or separation anxiety
-compulsively playing out the source of fear
- avoidance of situations that may or may not be related to what the child is afraid of
- sleep disturbances
- loss of acquired developmental skills (like dressing oneself)
- frequent crying
Ages 6 - 10 -
- physical complaints and concerns about their health
- nightmares , sleep problems
- loss of appetite
- excessive anxiety and fearfulness
- compulsive re-enactment of fears through play or drawing
- a tendency to be hyper-alert in order to recognize new threats
- inability to focus in school
Pre-adolescence and Adolescence -
- nightmares and flashbacks, difficulty sleeping
- feeling detached or estranged
- impulsive and aggressive behaviors.
- rebelliousness and anti-social behaviors
- risk-taking behaviors
- excessive sulleness
- drop in grades
Take Care of You!
Its critically important right now to take care of you from the inside out. Curtail your intake of news, and factor calming rituals into your life -- prayer, meditation, visualization, yoga, tai chi, exercise, soothing music, or extra moments of solitude. Uncertain times call for extreme self-care. Making the time for things that calm and soothe you will not only help you, it will help your children too. Heres why -- when our level of anxiety is high, we can unknowingly pass it on to our children. Subtle signals like the knitting of the brow, tensing of the shoulders, catch of the voice can belie the words of reassurance that we speak. Sure, our fears arent going to completely disappear after a hot bath, but the level of anxiety will lessen, and well be better able to return to a centered place inside.
Also, stay in the moment instead of projecting ahead. All we really have is this moment, and this moment, and this moment. By staying grounded in the present, we avoid the trap of allowing our minds to become saturated with fears. I remember a time of great stress I was going through a few years ago. A healer I worked with gave me an exercise that really helped. Each time a fear started coming up she told me to literally feel my feet planted on the ground, and remind myself that the same earth that supports all of us was protecting me now. Doing this helped because it was a concrete way to bring myself back to the present moment. Just feeling my feet on the ground reminded me that this moment really was okay, and that what I feared most might never come to pass.
6 Steps to Hope for Kids of Every Age:
Remember, peace begins with each of us, and every action we take counts in making the world a little more peaceful.
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.
Copyright © 2003 by Naomi Drew. All rights reserved. Site Map