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Navigating Difficult Conversations: Talking to Children About War

Reminders of the worsening Middle East conflict are constant and resonating. How do we surrender to our incapability of fixing the world? How do we reconcile our heartache? How do we explain the inexplicable? How do we speak to children about war? What do we do?

We pray that the children of Palestine and Israel will somehow be sheltered and healed from the trauma and violence around them. And we protect muslim families where we are from the active ignorance and hatred that these events drum up around the world. And we make sure our children don’t have unanswered questions.


1. Be mindful of what they’re exposed to.

When children see news footage or hear people talking about something, they tend to assume it’s happening where they live. They can’t tell the difference between images on a screen and their own reality. So be mindful and observant about the information they’re gathering.

2. Keep it simple.

Remember that children don’t know anything about the realities of government, armies and war. Find out what they know so you can respond to that and not bring up things they don’t need to know. Ask them what they’ve seen and heard.

3. Keep calm.

When speaking with children about serious or upsetting topics, we have to keep a cool disposition. Look them in the eye so they know you are serious, but composed. Discussing a serious topic while negative emotions are on board will have them associate this subject with personal, immediate danger. Children take their cues from adults around them, so show them that you and they are safe.

4. Focus on peace.

With young children, you can briefly explain that sometimes countries have arguments and fight with each other in their towns. But remind them that people all over the world are working to stop the conflict. Be sure to highlight the helpers, the organizations and people who are doing their best to help affected people and make peace. There are organizations Iike the UN where leaders meet and plan for peace. And where we live, we try our best to get along and care for each other.

5. Keep the door open.

Remember not to minimize their concerns. It’s best for them to learn about complicated issues from you so that if they have further questions or feelings, they can bring those up to you later and see you as a resource. Don’t discount their questions as that will deepen a mystery that they will only fill with their imagination. It’s best to put light in the dark areas that they don’t know about. The truth said appropriately is better than dismissing their questions and feelings.

Is there anything that someone kept from you when you were growing up that you exaggerated in your mind because no one would talk about it? Don’t you wish they had just discussed it because your imaginings were worse than the truth?

You can end the conversation by leaving the door open for further discussion and a big hug to reassure them. Repeat that your neighborhood, your community and your family are safe.

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