In the current scenario, where the heinous acts of terrorism, violence and war make headlines in media–the pertinent question remains: how to talk to your kids about these sensitively?
The recent mob lynching case, Kashmir violence, War in Syria – parents are often in a fix while trying to explain to their children about the gory acts of terror and violence. Violence, war, terrorism etc. freezes parents when a child asks them about it. Media both print and digital are sensationalizing war and terrorism. Parents don’t want to expose their children to the unpleasantness of war and thus, normally take two routes – i.e. ignore their questions and/or not letting them read about / watch these events.
Many times children ask a lot of questions from their parents which may place parents at a loss of words to answer. Questions about violence, terrorism, war, religious intolerance etc are some of the hardest to answer. There can be two situations in such a scenario, one that sometimes parents themselves don’t understand it and two even though the parents understand it in their own way they are not sure if, when and how much information to give to their children. The other pertinent questions going through their head could be whether to share their personal beliefs or not; how to make children feel safe in a world that’s constantly feeling threatened and vulnerable or how to share age-appropriate information etc.
Let your child express
The present time is an anxious time for adults as well as children with news channels and newspapers/magazines flooded with reports on all kinds of violence, war and terrorism. In such a scenario, it is very important for the parents to listen to their child and ask about the child’s feelings and what he/she is thinking about the whole incident. First get them to express themselves and don’t analyze or process what the child is feeling. Get them to open up. Next, acknowledge the child for sharing. Very young children (up to 8-9 year old) may get confused when they hear some people are against the war and some people support it. They do not yet understand the politics and fanaticism behind wars and may also get puzzled by links between religion and a war. On the other hand children in elementary school and high school (age 10 and above) may feel a need to take a stand or action. They may be interested in knowing more about the situation and may also wish to be involved in charitable activities related to the violent acts. It can also be the case that children don’t have anything to share about.
How to make your kid to share
Every child is not necessarily comfortable talking about the incidents. Many a times, kids may end up internalizing what they have been exposed to. Parents may feel tempted to ignore discussing such topics or to watch news on a current event with their children in order to protect them from unpleasant realities but it may not be an option with older children who are already exposed to all kinds of news from T.V., school or after chatting with friends etc. With children it is healthy to discuss with them about their fears and let them share their feelings because watching media coverage with violence especially repeated telecast may be stressful for children even when it is not affecting them directly. Here’s what they can do:
1) Parents can also help children not to generalize their opinions about a whole group of people or an entire religion. They need to emphasize on the fact that such acts of violence and terrorism are caused by very specific people for their own personal interests rather than interests of humanity as a whole. These are the people who use aggressive means to satisfy their wants. Also these can be great teaching moments for parents to discuss about family issues and build something great about the family like discussing about a previous fight within the family and coping skills to resolve the same. Anything can be resolved and worked out if people communicate their intentions clearly.
2) Such events can prove to be a perfect opportunity for parents to encourage their children to empathize. It will give them a chance to reflect upon their roles as a family in the society. Encourage children to express their support and concern for victims of such events. For example participating in charitable activities, lighting candles for people who have lost their lives, praying together, donating pocket money in school’s fund raising activities, disaster management etc.
3) There are no easy answers to the questions children may ask in such a scenario and sometimes a parent may also want to grieve if a loved one’s life is lost due to an act of violence.It is better to grieve as a family than to hide or suppress feelings. This promotes healthy coping skills. Reassure to your children that you love them and that they are safe and secure.
4) Acts of violence can also be an opportunity to discuss the issues of aggression, anger, impatience, pride and also peaceful and non violent ways to deal with a situation. Expose children to nonviolent role models in history like Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr, and Nelson Mandela etc. It is equally important to model tolerance and be accepting and understanding of others’ opinions when discussing the roots of violence and war as misunderstandings, differences in religion and culture, intolerance, religious fanaticism etc. Also, this is an opportunity for parents to discuss and reflect about intolerance happening in the child’s life and their own life like fights happening in school, bullying, neighbors fighting, people breaking traffic rules on the road etc. This can make them both reflect about his/her own life and his/her ways of dealing with such issues.
Although sometimes these topics may be difficult to discuss with children, these conversations are extremely important to understand the child’s feelings. They give parents an opportunity to help their children understand the world in which they live and to reaffirm their love. Do not worry about questions for which you don’t have an answer, instead of ignoring it just wondering aloud and reflecting with your child about such matters forms a deep connection in the long run. Also, as parents what is most important is to concentrate on the child’s feelings and getting them to express themselves.
Always remember and share with your children that for every person involved in terrorism or war there are a few thousands wanting to spread peace. For every ‘bad’ person there are a few thousand ‘good’ people in the world.