ANZAC Day – Talking About War With Children.

As most Australians and New Zealanders would know, next Friday 25th April is ANZAC DAY. It commemorates the landing of Australian and New Zealand troops at Gallipoli, Turkey on 25 April 1915. Australia and New Zealand were supporting Britain and the other allies in World War I.

By the time troops retreated from Gallipoli on 20 December 1915, 8141 soldiers had died and 18,000 had been wounded.

The landing at Gallipoli was seen as a story of courage and endurance amongst death and despair, in the face of poor leadership from London, and unsuccessful strategies.

ANZAC Day has been a public holiday since 1927 with dawn services being held all around Australia. The day has now become a time to remember all those who have fought for Australia and lost their life doing so.

I have explained the history of ANZAC Day to my children, but I have never really gone into any in depth discussion about war itself and its consequences. This year when we have spoken about the upcoming public holiday some different questions are being asked by my eldest son (9.5 y.o). “Why is there war?” “How does war end?” “If so many people die, why do countries fight wars?”

These are all sensible and logical questions. Australia is part of the Coalition of the Willing with soldiers on active duty in Afghanistan and Iraq, (I have very strong views on this, but that is an entirely different post!) so when Thinker is asking these questions he is trying to understand war as it is currently going on.

We limit television in our house, but even within what they watch there is news bulletins and we have newspapers in the house which we read openly and encourage him to do so as well. Exposure to current news often elicits many more questions and I have at times wondered if I am answering them in a way which is helpful to him. I want to tell him the truth, yet I do not want him to excessively worry about war and terrorism.

So in the lead up to ANZAC Day, I have looked around for some resources to help me answer the questions that will inevitably come up and and for some tips on talking about war with children. This is a collection of sites that I have found most useful:

Behind the News
Behind the News is an excellent Australian children’s current affairs show. They have a teachers hand out “Dealing With War and Conflict In the Media”. This is a great resource and amongst other useful information includes the following tips:

If something in the news worries you….

    Check the facts – it might not all be true or it could be exaggerated.
    Remember that things in the new are often ‘newsworthy’ because they are unusual or don’t happen very often.
    Talk about the news with your parent, teacher or friends. They may understand and have ways to help you fell OK about what you have seen or heard.
    You could ask your teacher to hold a class discussion, which would help you understand the issue better.
    Play a game or get active – running, walking, cycling and exercise can help to relax you.
    If you need help you can contact the Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800
    Remember you can TURN THE TV OFF and choose not to watch things that may upset you.

Family Education
In their “Talking with Children About War and Violence in the World” article they go through 13 questions which parents might have on this topic. Useful answers for me were:

9. How do I deal with the different emotions that children may have about these issues?
The feelings children have will generally be attached to the developmental issues that are most pressing for them. For early elementary school children it will usually be issues of separation and safety. For older elementary and middle school children it will be issues of fairness and care for others. For adolescents it will often involve the ethical dilemmas posed by the situation.

Listening closely and discerning what some underlying issues might be will help your responses be more productive. In some areas, such as concerns for personal safety, we can provide reassurance by making specific plans with children around what we would need to do in the event of an emergency. In other cases, our role should be that of a listener. Listening in and of itself can be reassuring to children.

10. After I have listened to children’s concerns, how do I respond? Is it helpful to give them facts?
The answers to some questions that children ask are not always clear and straightforward. Some are much deeper. When children ask such questions as, “How come we have war?” or, “What will happen when the war is over?” we can explain that some people think one way about it and others think another. We might ask, “What do you think?” It is important for children to hear that there are differences of opinion and different ways of seeing the conflict.

The following websites all report on news and current affairs in a manner designed specifically for children and some even include teachers notes that are also helpful for parents to deal with these issues at home:

The Online NewsHour EXTRA
Time for Kids
Kids News Room
Behind The News

Have your children asked you questions about war? If so, how have you dealt with their questions?