MDW is proud to feature the wisdom of Clinical Psychologist, Health Service Psychologist, Adjunct Professor, and Board Certified Music Therapist, Dr. Bethany Cook, to share her tips on how to talk to your children or teens about war.
Parents need to talk to their children about war because it's an unfortunate reality of life. Children don’t have the cognitive or emotional ability to fully understand and make sense of the information they (over)hear. When a child isn’t given context and information in a way they are able to grasp, their minds often create very unrealistic and scary situations with them at the center of conflict.
When you don’t need to talk about it - If a child is very young, doesn't have the cognitive capacity to understand or is currently going through their own trauma I would hold off on talking specifically about war.
The best way to approach the subject of war with children:
Start with a story about conflict resolution they know well and understand.
Ask your child if they know of any conflicts around them. (This gives you a sense of what they know or how they perceive conflict.)
Talk about past wars and why they happened, and how they resolved. Always mention the heroes and brave “ordinary people” who changed the course of history.
Process current conflicts, from family or classroom feuds to wars in other parts of the world.
Finally, you always want to wrap up the conversation with reassurances and reasons of why your child is as safe as they can be. (This obviously varies depending on current life circumstances.)
What are some specific tips for parents?
Make sure you pick an optimal time to talk to your child; make sure they are rested, fed and have released extra energy.
If the topic comes up organically and you don't feel prepared to talk about it at the moment, simply let them know you’re tabling the topic for now but want to revisit it with them on X date and Y time.
Use words and metaphors your child can relate to when giving examples.
If you feel yourself become emotionally overwhelmed or triggered when talking about it, let your child know you need to pause the conversation but you will pick it up again at Y time.
Don’t use words your child won’t understand. If you need to use words they’ve not heard before please define the word and give it in context.
If your child asks to see images or videos (they may already be seeing them on their social media, in school, or even accidentally looking over someone's shoulder) talk to them about “why” they are interested. Depending on what they say, you decide whether to look at some together and process those or not depending on their cognitive understanding. Always preview the snippets you show them. Ask them what they’ve been seeing and talk about the importance of being informed without overwhelming themselves.
Talk about reputable sites to get their information.
Identify ways you can help in your community, or globally by volunteering.
Another note, be willing and open to talking about whatever concerns your child whenever they want/need. Don’t have one conversation and think it’s “over”.
Check in with them periodically and let them know you’re there to chat.
More about Dr. Bethany:
Dr. Bethany Cook is the author of For What It’s Worth – A Perspective on How to Thrive and Survive Parenting Ages 0 – 2 available on Amazon.
She has been called in as an “expert” for Parade Magazine, Today, WGN-Morning News, PureWow, and more. She is “officially” a full-time parent of two, a licensed Clinical Psychologist, Health Service Psychologist, Adjunct Professor, and a Board Certified Music Therapist.
Currently, she is working on developing and producing TV shows centered on families and mental health among other things. The goal of these endeavors are to help others build strong family systems and encourage them to live their truth in order to strengthen their human connections through self-awareness and positive communication.
Bethany is also a freelance writer and provides parenting articles on her own blog, posts and interacts daily with followers on her Facebook group – A Perspective on Parenting and enjoys making fun and engaging content on her TikTok account (@DrBCook)