The Reminder is making its archives back to 2003 available on our website. Please note that, due to technical limitations, archive articles are presented without the usual formatting.
Dr. Arlette Lefebvre, staff psychiatrist at The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, suggests parents follow some general guidelines when talking to children about war, suited to their age and maturity level: Pre-schoolers: What to expect: Children at this age are too young to comprehend what is taking place. If the child does hear discussion about conflicts occurring in other parts of the world, they need to be reassured that they are safe and there is no direct risk to themselves or their family. What to do: Parents should provide reassurance, monitoring, and structure for young children. Provide short, simple answers to their questions. Young children can only understand so much information at any one time and telling them too much will only scare and confuse them. Protect children from intensely disturbing or frightening images on television. Don't leave the television or radio on during the news as background noise if young children are around. What to look for: Signs of anxiety among pre-schoolers may be the presence of or increase in thumb-sucking, bed-wetting, fear of the dark or clinginess. Middle-school aged children: What to expect: Children in this age group are concrete thinkers. Parents need to deal with their very basic fears, such as "are we going to get bombed?" On the other hand, don't be surprised if some children at this age may not be anxious or even aware of the conflict. At school, children may hear discriminatory comments about the nationality or religion of their classmates. What to do: Make the time to listen to any concerns children may have. Don't go overboard with long, detailed explanations or "worst case scenarios" of terrorist attacks or chemical warfare. Parents should know about activities and discussions at school and inform teachers of any of the child's fears or concerns. Remember that children learn from watching their parents. They are very interested in how you respond to these events and learn from listening to your conversations with other adults. No matter how you feel about the war, deal with racism arising from it. Use this as an opportunity to teach tolerance and explain prejudice to your child. What to look for: Children who have experienced trauma or losses may show more intense reactions to news of war. These children may need extra support and attention. Signs of anxiety among middle-school aged children can include social withdrawal, stomachaches and headaches, or extreme fighting with siblings and acting out without provocation. Adolescents: What to expect: Adolescents may worry about more complex issues, such as what is going to happen to the world. They are at the age where they are developing their own set of ethics and will try to fit the war into this. What to do: Respect their opinions, even if they may be different from your own. Emphasize that each individual is entitled to his/her own feelings, and opinions. Allow them space to express themselves. Monitor your own exposure to all-news channels, such as CNN, and encourage your teenager to vary their sources of information by including the radio, internet and newspapers, along with television coverage. What to look for: Signs of anxiety include a preoccupation with news, the presence of or increase in insomnia, rebelliousness, challenging parental authority or social withdrawal. For further information: contact: Lisa Lipkin, Public Affairs, The Hospital for Sick Children, (416) 813-6380, email@example.com