Any lingering doubt about our being at war vanished on a quiet Sunday in October when bombs exploded on America's TV screens. Families who had protected their young children from the televised tragedies of September 11 felt compelled to offer information and reassurance when the fighting began in Afghanistan. Teachers of young children wondered what to say, if anything at all.
As always, the wisest course is to let the children lead the way. If they have questions or are playing out war-related concerns, teachers need to be there, listening calmly and carefully, responding honestly, and always providing reassurance. Valuable clues about how to reassure and comfort children have emerged from children's own questions. Many asked if bombs were falling anywhere nearby-- suggesting that we needed to let them know that Afghanistan is a long way from home. "Can the bad men come here?" one child asked referring to his school. Another child, wanting to be sure that the war was happening far away, brought a globe to his teacher so she could point out where the war was in relation to his hometown. The demonstrable distance between any place in America and Afghanistan was reassuring.
Other questions offered more evidence of children simply seeking reassurance that this war can't hurt their families or disrupt their home or school life. "How are we going to keep the bad guys away from here?" one child asked. "Our police and soldiers are protecting us. That is their job," was the teacher's calming answer. It seemed to satisfy the child.
But what of the vast majority of young children who say nothing, ask nothing, indicate no concern at all about the war? In such cases, there is no reason for adults to initiate discussion. Our task is to be alert for children's concerns and to create an environment in which they feel free to express any worries. The best thing we can do for them is to tune in to their thoughts and feelings. In doing so, we are likely to find that children whose parents and teachers are calm do not feel the intermittent unease plaguing many adults.
A meeting of the minds of parents and teachers can cushion children's worries. Just as the terrible acts of September 11 have brought us closer together as a country, the current world crisis can bring parents and teachers together. Their close cooperation is what enables children to feel safe, even in times of war.