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Tragedies, Disasters, and War . . .

The Five Best/Worst Things You Can Say to Your Children About War and Terrorism
By Chick Moorman

The Five Best

1) "What have you been hearing about the war?"

Ask your children questions. Begin a dialogue by showing an interest in their thoughts, ideas, and feelings. Ask them what they have heard at school. Ask what their friends think. Ask what they have heard on the news. Ask if they have questions.

Then listen to their answers. Ask clarifying questions: Why do you think that? How do you think that happened? What do you think will happen next? Show an interest in your children's opinions and it won't be long before you hear, "What do you think, Dad?"

2) "You can watch TV for only 30 minutes, and I want to be present."

Viewers and parents beware: War on TV can be graphic. In addition, seeing real human beings killed with the precision and repetition of a videogame can have a numbing effect on children. War is not a game. Neither is it a sixty-minute drama interlaced with commercials. The war-related TV programs children watch need to be highly regulated and supervised. Turn the TV off after the news coverage and debrief. Dialogue about what you just saw and heard. Process the material and help your children make meaning of this serious material.

3) "What do you suppose it looks like from the other side?"

This question is parent talk that helps children learn about perspective. It helps them learn to see things from both sides of an issue and to develop empathy. Learning to shift perspective and see things from the other side prevents your children from developing tunnel vision. It increases their understanding of opposing views, which is an important step in effective problem solving and conflict resolution.

When children learn that it is possible to see the same thing from different angles, they are better equipped to deal with the increasing diversity and difference of opinion that exist in today's world. Understanding the belief system and perspective of another helps us anticipate reactions and predict responses on both public and personal levels.

4) "I don't know what will happen, but I know we'll be able to handle it."

When children get scared, adults often make what they think are reassuring promises. They say, "Everything will be okay" or, "Nothing will happen to us, I can tell you that." These promises are not truthful. We do not know everything will be okay. We do not know for sure that nothing will happen to us. Not anymore! Tell your children the truth: "I don't know what will happen, but I know we can handle it." With this statement, what you are really communicating to them is confidence. This style of parent talk says, "I am confident we can handle whatever comes our way. If we have to ration, we can handle it. If the price of gas doubles or triples, we can handle it. If the economy nosedives, we can handle it."

5) "I understand how you could feel that way."

There are many varied and strong emotions in America about war. We have hawks and doves, peace marchers and war advocates. There is debate and disagreement in the Congress. Marriage partners are often split on this issue. It is highly possible that one of your children holds beliefs about war that differ from yours. When these differences are expressed, effective parent talk includes, "I understand how you could feel that way."

"I understand how you could feel that way" does not say you agree with your child. It does not say you share his or her beliefs or feelings. It demonstrates and communicates an understanding of how your child could arrive at the conclusion he or she has drawn. It is filled with respect for differences and it honors diversity.

The Five Worst

1) "God is on our side."

God doesn't take sides. God loves everyone unconditionally. To tell children God loves "us" more than He loves "them" is untrue. "God is on our side" is a phrase that results in children's developing false beliefs that only good things can happen to us because God plays on our team. When you say this to your children, you equip them with a false sense of superiority. Feelings of superiority lead to a belief in "better than." "Better than" breeds an "us vs. them" mentality that encourages conflict, dissention, and strife.

2) "We are right and they are wrong."

Everyone has a different view of the world, so no one thinks that what he or she does is wrong. Human beings do horrible things, but they don't see them that way. They believe they are right. The people on "their side" are doing what they do because they think they are right. "Our side" is doing what we do because we think we are right.

Being right doesn't work. Making people wrong doesn't work. Speak to your children about differences. Let them know what is similar and what is different about various beliefs, values, morals, and cultures, but do it outside the context of right and wrong.

3) "There is nothing you can do."

When you say these words to your children, you give the message, "You are small, insignificant, and powerless." You teach them that they are at the mercy of their environment and that they have no influence over the events of their lives. You are teaching them to play their lives from the victim position.

Ask instead, "What do you think we can do about this?" Help them brainstorm possible actions that can be taken. Could a child donate part of his or her allowance to the Red Cross? Or write a letter to a man or woman in the service? How about making a poster, saying a prayer, putting a bow on a tree, or designing a T-shirt?

Tell your children, "You always have more choices than you think you have," and help them develop an "I can" stance toward life. One of the best ways to believe "I can do something" is simply to go out and do something.

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4) "You don't know what you're talking about."

Would you ever say to your child, "You're really stupid"? Or, "You're so young and inexperienced, you couldn't possibly know anything. You need to live as long as I have and then you'll be worthy of having an opinion"? Probably not. But if you say, "You don't know what you're talking about," you send a similar message.

Of course we have more years of experience than our children. Absolutely, we have seen and heard things that they don't yet begin to grasp. But that doesn't mean we can't respect the opinion of our eight-year-old or of our thirteen-year-old. Listen to your children. Demonstrate your understanding of their views by reflecting them back to your children with a paraphrase. Model a mature adult who can respect differences as well as contrary opinions.

5) "There is nothing to worry about."

Children worry. They get scared. They have strong feelings about war, terrorism, and death. To tell them they have nothing to worry about is to ask them to numb their feelings, to push their feelings down and pretend they don't exist. In emotional times children need support. They need adults in their lives who help them work through their feelings in safe ways.

Chick Moorman is the author of "Parent Talk: How To Talk To Your Child In Language That Builds Self-Esteem and Encourages Responsibility," and "Spirit Whisperers: Teachers Who Nourish A Child's Spirit." (Personal Power Press, toll free, 877-360-1477.) He publishes FREE E-newsletters for parents and educators. Contact him (ipp57@aol.com) to get your free subscription to one or both newsletters. Visit his website at http://www.chickmoorman.com

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