Q: Can kids understand what war is?
A: Most young children, under the age of 8, have a difficult time understanding abstract concepts. War can be an especially challenging one, since most conflicts are happening in faraway places that may not seem real to children. What's more, young children often have oversimplified views of war and the multilayered (sometimes centuries-old) conflicts that cause it can be way too difficult for a young mind to grasp. For example, if you discuss war with a kindergarten class you're likely to hear something like: "When we fight at school the teacher tells us to talk it over and compromise. Why can't grown-ups do the same thing to stop war?"
So how to respond to your child when he catches a glimpse of the evening news and starts inundating you with questions? Usually the best way to talk about a tough concept like war is to find some analogy in the child's own experiences to help him get a handle on it. For example, children may not understand all the political, religious, and social aspects of a war, but they certainly understand pain and loss. So explain what's happening by using examples of how war can separate families and drive people from their homes. Whenever possible, try to listen to your kid before talking to him -- your child may have very different worries or concerns than you might think. If your kid is silent on the issue, ask an open-ended question like, "What do you think about what has been going on this week?" This allows him to take the lead and address the areas that worry him most. It also helps to read age-appropriate books that illustrate these ideas. And be sure you always emphasize to your child that although these are scary things to hear about, he is very safe and not likely to be affected by foreign conflicts.
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