Tough explanations

February 21, 2003|by LISA TEDRICK PREJEAN

Anxiety mounts in our homes and workplaces as rhetoric increases and war looms on the horizon.

We talk to our colleagues about it. We discuss it with our spouses. We express concern to our friends in the military.

But how do we talk about it with our children when we don't know what's going to happen?

How can we make them feel secure in an insecure world?

We need to stick to the basics, answer their questions simply, and admit that there are things we don't understand.

"If we listen carefully to the questions, we will know how to answer," says Cindy Reedy, an instructor in education at Arcadia University in Glenside, Pa., near Philadelphia.

In any discussion with your child, keep in mind whether it has been parent-initiated or child-initiated, Reedy says. Are you talking with him or answering his questions?


Frame what you say in a manner the child can understand and answer in a developmentally appropriate way.

If your child asks, "Am I going to die?" he's telling you he's fearful. He's seeking security.

He needs to hear you say, "I will do everything I can to make you feel safe."

Don't give a flippant response, such as, "You don't have to worry about that."

That discredits a child's interest and teaches him to not ask questions, Reedy says.

"It doesn't validate thinking," Reedy says. "They're going to be curious. We want that."

Allow your child to voice concerns and ask questions.

Dialogue is critical, especially in preschool, says Reedy, coordinator of Arcadia's early childhood education program.

Monitor what you say in front of young children, Reedy suggests.

If your child is nearby while you talk about war to another adult, listen to or watch news, or discuss an article, be prepared for questions at some point.

This provides an opportunity to tie in social studies and geography, as well as writing skills via military pen pals.

The child may want to know where a country is. What time is it there? What's the temperature? What do the people eat? Why do they dress the way they do?

If you don't know the answers, offer to help your child discover them. Check out a library book on the culture. Study the globe or a map with your child and help him find the countries he's heard about on the news or in adult conversations. Do a Web search for recipes you can make together. Talk about the equipment that is used. ("Can you imagine how big an airplane would have to be in order to carry a tank?")

Encourage your child to view soldiers as individuals. Tell him soldiers are real moms and dads fighting to protect our freedom.

Focus on people who are doing things to solve the problems or offer kindness to those who suffer, suggests Carol Baicker-McKee, author of "FussBusters at Home" and "FussBusters on the Go."

This will help children to be distracted from frightening things and will prevent them from feeling powerless, Baicker-McKee says.

Help your child write to someone in the military. Preschoolers can color pictures to brighten a soldier's day.

"It brings in a face, a name, a reality," Reedy says.

This can turn apathy into keen interest.

Organizations such as Military Moms at can forward items to military personnel. See the Web site for details.

West Virginia Air National Guard Lt. Col. Roger Sencindiver provided this address for security police from the Tri-State area stationed in Incurlik, Turkey:

West Virginia Air National Guard

167th Airlift Wing security personnel

39th SFS, Tent 1232

Operation Northern Watch

APO AE 09396

Discussions about war also provide an excellent opportunity to talk about where to turn when things seem uncertain. What is the source of your family's strength? Love for each other? For country? For community? For church? For God? Give your child a strong belief system that will sustain him through difficult times.

And while war is serious business, allow for some comic relief.

Laughter, a dose of fun, and some vigorous exercise will help relieve stress, Baicker-McKee reminds.

Read funny stories such as "The Dumb Bunnies" by Sue Denim and Dav Pilkey, play a silly game of "Run Around and Tickle" (the children run around you in circles, and periodically you grab one for a gentle tickle), Baicker-McKee suggests. Just keep giggling.

My son thinks Turkey is a funny name for a country. Why not Chicken or Ham or Duck? And if Turkey and Hungary got together, would both cease to exist? (Don't get it? Ask an 8-year-old, or send me an e-mail and I'll explain.)

Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail's Family page. Send e-mail to her at

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