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In general, young children have much simpler ideas about the world and its problems than older children do. If you ask a preschooler about war, she'll likely see it as simply fighting between two countries, while school-age children can better understand that war is a conflict between groups with different political, religious, or cultural beliefs. Here are few pointers on how to talk with kids at different ages about war:
For kids under 8:
• Don't let them watch television news. Young kids might not grasp the concept of instant replay, so on September 11, 2001, many assumed that the constant images of planes crashing into the World Trade Center Towers on television were separate incidents, not repeats of the same video footage. News programs also often show disturbing images that can cause nightmares.
• Young kids don't usually talk directly about war, but their thoughts and fears tend to come out when they play. These moments are great opportunities for discussion.
• Reinforce the value of using words to resolve conflicts. Even if you agree with the reasons for going to war, it's important to explain to young kids that violence is not a good way to solve problems.
For older kids:
• Talk to your kids to find out what they already know about war. Say you understand that it can be confusing and complicated, but that they can ask you any questions they may have.
• Share your political opinions with your children and let them express theirs. Explain what the other side thinks and why they feel the way they do.
• Reassure kids (even older ones) that although it's natural to be frightened by the concept of war, people in the U.S. are not likely to be directly affected by international conflicts.
• Explain that war is usually a conflict between governments and that the Muslim or Arabs they know, for example, are not bad people. Use this point as a way to discuss the dangers of stereotyping.
Copyright © 2001 Parents.com, Updated 2009
The answers from our experts are for educational purposes only. Please always refer to your child's pediatrician and mental health expert for more in-depth advice.