Talking to children about war

23 Apr, 2018

ANZAC Day is one of the most significant events in our national calendar and is a time to commemorate the sacrifices made by Australian and New Zealand men and women during conflicts around the world.

You may find your children asking questions about the significance of ANZAC Day, or about other conflicts they may hear about on the news. With increasing coverage on social media, TV shows, video games or news coverage, issues involving violence, crime and war can reach even the youngest children and can cause lingering feeling of grief, trauma and fear due to this remote exposure. Having a plan to discuss these topics in an age-appropriate way can be important to maintaining their mental health.

However war can be a difficult topic to approach with younger children and can be challenging to talk about. Certain stories can cause grief, stress and fear in children. If and when this occurs, it is important to encourage the child to talk about their fears and support the child around these feelings.

The information parents give should depend on the questions children ask. If your children are asking questions about war and violence, explore what they understand of it, what they think happens and ask them what they are worried about.

  • Discuss topics in an age appropriate way – try and avoid an information overload and only discuss what is necessary to soothe their fears.
  • Balance the good news with the ‘bad’ news and try to emphasise the good outcomes. For example, in the case of war, the protection of country and keeping people safe.

  • Acknowledge their thoughts and feelings and help them give a name to their feelings, gently and tentatively. Eg. “Are you sad, worried, mad, glad, concerned?”

  • It is important for parent to have calm, relaxed persona so that the child feels safe to talk about their concerns. Ensure you offer good eye contact, and lots of hugs.

  • Offer a solution. For example, “when you feel worried and scared, come and tell me.”

  • Make sure you listen to their concerns and respond, rather than dismissing them.

  • Be honest, direct and keep things simple.

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