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I remember September 11, 2001, like it was yesterday. My youngest was a 6th grader, and I had just woken her up to get ready for school when I heard the news on the small kitchen television: An airplane crashed into one of the towers of the World Trade Center. I couldn’t wrap my head around how such a freak accident could occur in this day and age, and the next thing I knew, the second tower was hit.
I then knew that America was under attack and the world would never be the same. I can’t remember what I told my daughter, as I was in such a fog that morning, but I remember thinking that what I said could make or break her innocence. The current Israel-Hamas takes me back to the fateful September morning.
While the situation hasn’t presented itself yet (and may not, since my grandkids’ parents are better off having the conversation with their kids), I have wondered what I would say to make it age-appropriate. After doing tons of research, here is what I have discovered to be the best way to talk to your grandkids about war and other scary things:
How to Talk to Preschool-Aged Children (3-5 years):
Keep It Simple and Reassuring: Children might not fully understand the concept of war at this tender age, but they can pick up on the emotions and concerns of the adults around them. Focus on providing comfort and security.
- Use simple language: “Sometimes people disagree and need to find ways to solve their problems.”
- Reassure them: “You are safe here with me, and I will always protect you.”
Limit Exposure: Avoid letting them watch news broadcasts or overhear conversations that might cause distress, as their young minds might not differentiate between distant events and immediate threats.
How to Talk to Young Elementary-Aged Children (6-8 years):
Start with What They Know: Ask them what they’ve heard or if they have any questions. This will give you an idea of their understanding and concerns. (If they haven’t brought it up, I don’t find it beneficial for grandma to do so, as it isn’t anything they need to worry about yet.)
If they have heard about it at school or saw something on the news, you can be honest but selective with details, saying, “There are places where people have big disagreements, and it’s making many people sad.”
Use Analogies: Relate situations to stories or experiences they’re familiar with, like disagreements between friends or storybook conflicts, to help them understand.
How to Talk to Upper-Elementary Aged Children (9-11 years):
Encourage Open Dialogue: By this age, your grands have likely heard about global events from school or friends. If this is the case with yours, you can encourage them to ask questions and answer them honestly but without graphic details.
You can also acknowledge their feelings and reassure them – In fact, you should! An example is something like, “It’s okay to feel upset or confused. I’m here to talk whenever you need.”
Teach Critical Thinking: Help your upper-elementary-aged grands differentiate between facts and opinions by discussing the importance of understanding different perspectives and not jumping to conclusions.
How to Talk to Teenagers (12-18 years):
Foster a Safe Space for Discussions: Teens are more aware of the complexities of global events, so engage in open conversations, valuing their opinions while sharing your own perspective.
As hard as it is, being open to tough questions is also essential. While these may not be ideal, and you may not know what to say, a simple “I understand why you’d feel that way. Let’s discuss it together” can go a long way!
Provide Reliable Resources: Guide them toward reputable news sources and books to ensure they’re getting accurate information. You can also use this as an opportunity to encourage them to think critically about what they read and hear.
Talking to our grandkids about complex topics like war is never easy, but we can help them navigate these challenging topics with patience and open communication. At the end of the day, the most important thing we can do is remind them that they can turn to you whenever they need guidance or simply a listening ear. You’ve got this, Grandma!