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How to talk to children about war and world conflict

Michelle Maffei is a freelance copywriter covering a variety of topics both online and in print, from parenting to beauty and more. Combining her two favorite loves, writing and motherhood, she has found joy in even the most challenging ...

Age-appropriate tips

In a world where information is available at your children's fingertips, often times kids are exposed to graphic media coverage. Figuring out how to talk to children about world conflict can leave you feeling frustrated.
Barricade in venezuela | Sheknows.com
Photo credit: John Moore/Getty Images News

So before you are bombarded with questions from your kids about issues like Syria and Venezuela, study up on these tips from Time magazine's Time for Kids on talking to your youngsters about the news in age-appropriate ways.

Finding the right approach with kids and news

While you may be looking for a black and white solution to discussing war and world conflict with kids, Nellie Gonzalez Cutler, managing editor of Time for Kids (TFK) shares that there are guidelines, but no "one way" is right for every child. "After 19 years, I've learned that there is no simple go-to solution. Each event must be approached with sensitivity and with an understanding of what children need to know, weighed against what they are hearing from other sources."

For some parents, information is the key to helping kids understand what's going on in the world around them. "I believe kids should know the evils of this world that might directly affect them now or later, so they can be prepared and not blindsided when a tragedy happens," shares Amanda Gibson, California mother of three. But before you tackle the tough questions like war and world conflict, here are a few guidelines Cutler gives for addressing questions from kids and the news they see.

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Talking to young children about news like war

"For preschool through second grade, TFK's approach is hands-off," explains Cutler. "Young children should not be burdened with news they cannot begin to understand. There is plenty of time to learn that the world can be cruel." When addressing things young kids see in the news,

  • Take your cue from your child. If he or she is unaware of a tragedy, do not bring it up.
  • If your child asks a question, answer in a straightforward manner. Acknowledge that sometimes bad things happen.
  • Allow your child to express how he or she feels.
  • Offer reassurance. Let your child know that he or she is safe.
  • Give positive examples of people who are performing heroic deeds or working to keep people safe.
  • Let your child know that he or she can help others. Some ways include working on a project that thanks first responders or taking part in a school event that helps victims of a tragedy.

Discussing issues like world conflict with tweens and teens

For older kids, exposure to news is sometimes unavoidable. "In general, we don't let our children watch the news. Images have a way of really adding to the scare factor and it's easier to inform without the hype," reveals Shawn Fink of The Abundant Mama Project and mom to 8-year-old twins. "However, I'd much rather that they learn about hard things from us, their parents, than at school or on the bus with other children. We give lots of context, make sure they know they are safe and we don't overdo it. We wait for them to ask questions rather than inundate them with information."

This is exactly the way Cutler suggests you approach tweens and teens seeking answers about the news. "With tweens and teens, parents and teachers can take a more straightforward approach to difficult topics. Discuss different news sources like the Time for Kids Family Edition app with older kids. Give them the tools to become informed and discerning readers." In addition,

  • Make it a practice to talk about world events and the news. Don't wait for a tragedy to happen before opening the lines of communication.
  • Let your child know that you will do your best to answer any question.
  • Discuss with your child how he or she can become an informed citizen. Ask, What is a good news source? Can you believe everything you read on the internet? Should you read more than one version of a story?
  • Encourage your child to be respectful of others and their feelings.
  • Let your child know that it is OK to feel upset or sad about tragic events.
  • Reassure your child that he or she is safe.
  • Let your tween or teen know that he or she is not powerless. Anyone can have an impact on the world and can work to make it a better place.

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While talking to children about war and world conflict or other things kids see in the news is never easy, the key is, "No matter what the children's age, always let them know that they are safe," advises Cutler. As an adult it's tough enough to process current events like the war in Syria or the conflicts in Venezuela, but with your guidance, your children will be able to comprehend what's going on in the world in a healthy, age-appropriate way.

More on how to talk to kids

Boston Marathon bombings: How to talk to your kids about tragedy
How to talk to kids about bullying
How to talk to your kids about racism

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