How to talk about war and conflict to children

Talking to children about wars and conflicts around the world is a challenging but important conversation. In today’s world where media is accessed all around us, children are exposed to news and information about conflicts from an early age. They may hear about wars on the television, the internet, the parents talking or from their peers.

For parents, talking about these topics with children can be emotionally difficult, especially when children are sensitive or prone to anxiety. However, open and age-appropriate discussions about wars and conflicts can help children understand the complexities of the world, develop empathy and cope with their feelings.

The process to talk about these things has to be approach on an individual basis. Younger children, typically under the age of seven, will most probably not understand the full scope of global conflicts. In these cases, it’s best to keep discussions simple and factual. Explain that there are problems in the world and some people are working to solve them. Avoid graphic details and focus on reassuring them that they are safe and loved. Problems exist in many places around us and we will always do our best to solve them.

For older children, aged 8 to 12, it’s possible to provide more information. Start by asking them what they know and how they feel about what they’ve heard. This gives you insight into their concerns and ensures that the conversation is tailored to their specific worries. Never make assumptions of what you think they know or how they know it. Give them accurate, age-appropriate information about specific conflicts and emphasise the importance of compassion, tolerance and understanding. Help them understand that conflicts tend to happen because of complex factors and often involve innocent people who are suffering.

Teenagers, aged 13 and older, are typically more capable of understanding the nuances of global conflicts. As with the younger children, ask first what they have heard/read and think about it. Engage them in conversations that promote critical thinking and encourage them to form their own opinions. Discuss the historical context, root causes and potential solutions. Encourage them to stay informed and engage in constructive activities like volunteering or advocating for peace.

Regardless of age, it’s important to be honest with children. If they ask difficult questions, do your best to provide accurate answers. If you don’t know the answer, do research together to find reliable sources of information. Talk about fake news and bots and how they impact society. Avoid sugar coating or downplaying the severity of conflicts, as children can sense when they are not being told the whole truth.

However, always provide hope and emphasise the positive actions that people are taking to make the world a better place.

Children may have various emotional reactions when discussing wars and conflicts. They might feel fear, anger, confusion, sadness or anxiety. It’s crucial to acknowledge these emotions and let them know that it’s okay to feel this way. That adults feel this as well. Reassure them of your love and support and offer ways for them to express their feelings. This can be through art, writing, or talking to a trusted adult.

To reduce anxiety in children, it’s important to establish a sense of security. Let them know that their immediate surroundings are safe and that there are people like us (parents and other family) and community leaders, working to protect them. Encourage routines and create a stable environment to help them feel secure.

To limit their exposure to distressing news and images, ensure rules and boundaries are in place. Monitor their media consumption and ensure that they are exposed to age-appropriate content.

Empower children to make a positive impact by getting involved. Discuss how individuals and communities can contribute to peace, whether through acts of kindness, volunteer work or promoting tolerance. This empowers children to feel that they can make a difference and be part of the solution to global problems.

Talking to children about wars and conflicts can be emotionally challenging, but it’s a crucial aspect of their development. By providing honest, age-appropriate information and fostering empathy and understanding, you can help them navigate the complexities of the world and, ultimately, contribute to a more peaceful future.

Who doesn’t want that for the children and the world? I know I do.

Best wishes Åse Greenacre – part of the Parenting Community Team