Helping Children Cope with War
By Leah Davies, M.Ed.
School personnel need to provide a safe, supportive environment where children
feel free to discuss their thoughts and feelings about war. By listening carefully
and answering questions on a level students can comprehend, children will learn
that they are not alone in their concerns. Involving students in activities can
help them deal with their emotions. For example, have the children read stories
about how other children have dealt with war or difficult situations. Together
make a list of coping skills they can use to deal with their feelings. It may
include exercise, singing, reading, talking to someone, dancing, hugging a pet,
looking at pictures, taking a nap, playing a game, riding a bike, etc. Other
ideas are to have them create a picture, poem, story, banner or play explaining
Children are particularly vulnerable if they live in an area where terrorists
have been active or if a loved one is in the military. Provide support groups
for these children by having them meet in small groups, once a week. In addition,
if students share a culture with the adversary or hold differing points of view
from the majority of students, they may need additional consideration. Educators
need to promote sensitivity to other races, cultures and religions to help prevent
stereotyping of any group. See the article, Learning
the Value of Diversity.
The following information may be shared with parents or caregivers, especially
those who have a relative in the military.
- Encourage parents to discuss the war with their child, yet
avoid burdening their child with adult concerns. Stress that they
on a level their child can understand. When adults refuse to talk about
the war, a child may become more anxious and insecure. Since children
have vivid imaginations,
the scariest thing for a child is not to have any facts about what is happening.
For young children, show them a map or globe and point out where war is
being fought. Say things like, "The war is far away." Or, if a relative
is involved you could say, "Your mom (dad or uncle) is only one of
thousands of troops who are well-trained and well-prepared." If you
don't know an answer to your child's question, be honest and say, "I
don't know, but I will try to find out." Discourage
your child from forming biases against people of certain nations, races
- A child's need to be heard and understood should be a parent's
primary consideration. When adults talk too much, instead of listening,
be responsive to
the child's thoughts and feelings. If a child seems hesitant to talk, you
could say, "What have you heard about the war?" "What do you find
yourself thinking about when you hear the news?" Or, "What do you
think other children might be worrying about?" Listen with respect
to a child's concerns and ideas and be supportive in your response.
Avoid put-downs like, "You shouldn't feel that way," or "You're
just being silly." Instead, say, "That is a worry." If the child seems
confused about something, you could say, "That's important, tell me more." Validate
feelings by repeating what you hear without judgment. You might say something
IS scary" or "I'm glad you were able to talk to me about this. It's normal
to feel anxious."
- If your child appears to be unusually sad, yet will not talk about
what's wrong, use puppets, do role plays, or read books on emotions such
Bear Feelings that encourage children to express emotions in an open-ended
way as well as to identify coping skills. Remember that distressed children
may need more physical closeness, so make sure you are available to provide
and reassurance. You could also ask your child to draw a picture or write
a story about what he or she is thinking. Older children may want to keep
a diary or
journal which they may or may not want to share. If a loved one is involved
directly in the war, have the children make pictures, write letters, or
bake cookies to
send him or her.
- If a child's views differ markedly from the parent, avoid comments
don't know what you're talking about!" or "When you're older, you'll understand." Instead,
listen and restate what he or she said and try to understand their point
of view. Ask for clarification in a respectful way. After you have listened,
you may want
to say, "We see things differently. My view is..." Rather than saying, "You're
wrong!" When you model respect for your child's ideas, you are more likely
to receive respect in return.
- Continue normal family routines and schedules by taking one day at
a time. Simplify your life by removing unnecessary stresses. For example,
put some projects
aside, decline extra responsibilities like being an officer in an organization,
and take care of yourself by getting enough sleep, exercise, and by eating
well. Provide yourself and your child opportunities to do enjoyable things
in recreational activities, playing games, taking walks, reading together,
etc. Speak in hopeful terms, and as much as possible model calmness and
- Watch the news only once a day and do not insist that the children
watch. If your child becomes upset by a news report, take time to process
his or her
thoughts and feelings. You may want to listen to or watch news reports
when the child is not present. In addition, realize that cartoons and
other shows that
glorify violence can have a negative impact upon your child's sense of
security. Also, if your child is within hearing distance, be careful
what you say to others
in person or on the phone.
- Do not make promises that you cannot keep. Avoid saying things
will be fine," or "Your mom (dad, relative) will not get hurt." Instead
don't know what will happen, but I will do everything I can to keep you
safe." or "We
can deal with anything because we care for one another."
- Separation and war worries can cause emotional reactions that contribute
to sadness and anger. Moodiness and irritability are natural reactions
to a loved
one being absent and in danger. If your child's reaction is extreme, for
example, he or she is obsessed with weapons, highly anxious, withdrawn,
hostile, or exhibits
sleep and eating disturbances, you may need to seek professional assistance.
Additional articles that may be helpful include, Helping
Children Cope with Loss and Educator's
Guide to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in Children.
Used by permission of the author, Leah Davies, and selected from the Kelly Bear website [www.kellybear.com]. 4/03
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