Talking to Children About War
by Naomi Drew
War on television, 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.
Here are some things you can do. Let your children
know that violence is a choice, not 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 looks 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 who 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. 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.
What if your child asks, “What about bad people who
try to hurt us?” 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. 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.
For older children, let them know that there are
other ways we can deal with people like that without bombing a
country, which doesn’t always work anyway. 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 it 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). 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 your children that what we put our energy into
is what we get. Over the past seventy years or so, the United States
and many other countries have
become very focused on war. Huge amounts of financial resources,
technological advances and intellectual energy have gone toward
developing the ways of war, neglecting the creation of 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 (see resource section
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 be achieved through the 5 Cs: commitment, cooperation,
communication, compromise and conflict resolution. Ask your children
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 Nazis. 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
Through the combination of all of these acts of
resistance, the power and unity of the Danes pushed back the Nazis.
By the time October 1st, 1943, rolled around – the date the Nazis
ordered the arrest of 7,000 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 6,600 of 7,000
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 the author of “Hope
and Healing: Peaceful Parenting in an Uncertain World” (Citadel
Press, 2002). Find out more or purchase the book at