One only needs to hold a newborn to understand trust. Helpless, equipped only with a voice to cry out, our children enter our lives and give themselves to us. They trust that we will take care of them, feed them, hold them, and love them. And in as much as is possible, we fervently try to anticipate and meet all their needs. But every once in a while they present a need for which we are totally unprepared. Such a need is being expressed by many of our children now as they learn that their country is engaged in war.
One 7-year-old child asked me what war meant. Another child said that he was afraid that he might die. A third child expressed a fear that the towers would fall. I listened earnestly to my first-, second-, and third-year students as I found them becoming aware that something frightening was happening somewhere out there. And I struggled within myself to find the best words to comfort my children, to protect them, and to help them keep that child-like trust that is their birthright. I answered the first child that war was an adult activity where the adults were trying to keep them safe. I asked the children if they knew who went to war.
They answered, “soldiers.” I said that since soldiers were the ones who went to war that they were the ones that might die and since they, the children, didn’t go to war, that they were safe. I responded to the question about the towers by saying that the war was happening in another place far from where we were so that we were safe here. I reminded the children that their parents and other adults loved them and were going to continue taking care of them. After the discussion, one child came up to me and said, “I feel a lot better now.” Just as in the teaching of religion, our school does not teach children what to believe about politics. Both of those subjects are taught in your homes and we respect your beliefs. How you answer your older children’s questions about war may depend upon your own beliefs. But it is a good opportunity to explain to older children that this country is a country full of differing ideas which we as citizens are permitted to express. That’s one of the wonderful things about our democratic republic.
We aren’t supposed to drop our babies, starve them, abandon them to their own cries, or withhold our feelings of love for them. And by the same token, we aren’t supposed to frighten our children with the travesties of the adult world. Soon enough they will become aware that life presents dangers as well as safety. We cannot stop the rotation of the earth, we cannot hold time still, and we cannot keep our children innocent. But for now, for their time as children, they deserve our protection from harmful information. We do not let our children watch certain adult movies, read certain books, or play certain videos. We do this not because we believe in censorship but because we know that there are some realities which are inappropriate for young minds. Today, as we are engaged in war, which is of the adult world, we need to prevent our children from watching the television news. Our children are not able to understand what is going on, and the images that they might see and the words that they might hear on the television are beyond their abilities to integrate. How can children understand the paradox that they are expected to use their words, not their fists, to resolve their conflicts, but adults can use extreme force to solve theirs?
Don’t drop your children into a storm of information that can only shatter their trust of adults and create visual images which may linger within their minds’ eyes to create scary pictures. Instead of watching the TV news, why not play games with your children, why not have fun together? After all, that’s the substance of childhood.
Director/Elementary 1 Teacher