Posted by: coachingparents | September 10, 2007

Real Children Speak on War and Terrorism


In recognition of the horrible event of 9/11, ACPI will focus our efforts this week on helping parents help children understand war, terrorism, and cope with the trauma.  We feel that every child has the right to feel safe and secure.

Special Note:  ACPI is offering a free copy of our ebook Children, Stress and War:  Real Ideas to Help Children Cope by Dr. Caron B. Goode.  You can get your copy by leaving a comment here on our blog!

How You Can Help Them Cope
By Caron Goode

Real Kids, Real Concerns
“Stop the wars. I don’t want me or anyone else to die.” – Jessie, age 11

With today’s heightened fear about war and the constant threat of terrorism, parents are concerned about the well-being of their children. Children can’t help but be affected by what is going on in the world around them-and world events do affect them. We took the time to talk to 60 children, ages eight through eighteen, to find out what they are thinking and feeling about war and terrorism. The results were sometimes expected, many times surprising, and always a clear reminder about the profound effect of war and terrorism on children’s lives.

The Questions
When we began, we looked for ways to get real-time feedback from children about the threat of war and the ongoing fear of terrorism. We used a survey for all participating children; no children under fourth grade level were involved. We framed the questions so children could give their opinions, feelings, and thoughts about war and terrorism with the clear knowledge that all answers were correct and that their opinions mattered. We told the children that their surveys would remain anonymous. The questions were:

  • There is a chance that the United States will be at war soon.
  • How does this make you feel? 
  • Do you feel safe since September 11? Why or why not?
  • Do you know anyone who is directly involved in any of the armed forces?
  • How do you feel about that person’s involvement in the military and the chance that he or she might go to war?
  • Is there anything else you would like to add about your feelings or opinions about war?

The Process
We asked Children to work independently and take as much time as they liked to answer the questions. We gave the survey as a writing exercise so children worked alone, and there was no whole-class discussion about their ideas about the topic. We gave the survey to one classroom of children whom the researcher knows and works with frequently. The children are all known to be bright, interested, and responsive. The researcher did not know the second classroom of children, and the classroom teacher administered the survey. Additionally, high school children voluntarily responded through an email address.

The Results
Interestingly, many of the results echoed the grief symptoms reminiscent of those associated with the work of Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, a world-renowned grief expert. In many surveys, children expressed denial, anger, and fear. These results proved to provide the gut reactions of children, who, unlike adults, have not learned to censor their feelings or respond according to a personal set of principles or what they might feel is publicly popular or acceptable.

Denial
“I’m not worried about war at all.” – Andy, age 13

The researcher worked directly with the first classroom of children and was able to observe their non-written reactions as well as read their written ones. She noticed that the children, who were usually so ready to take on a new project appeared bored and resistant. Some children rushed through the survey giving one-word answers and were asked to do it again using complete thoughts and sentences. For the most part, the children displayed attitudes of avoidance and boredom and attempted to evade the subject-in effect, they displayed attitudes of denial. Their first reactions were an attempt to ignore or minimize the subject completely.

Fear
“I cry at night hoping my family won’t get hurt.” – Tim, 11 years old

Next, in both classrooms, almost all of the children expressed their fear in the written survey. Children from ages eight on definitely understood that war killed people and that terrorism threatened to take lives here and abroad, and many felt unsafe. Children expressed concern that they were in danger personally and expressed great concern not only for the family members and friends who are directly involved in the military and perhaps already shipped out, but also for innocent people in other countries.

Anger
“It makes me want to shoot them myself!” – Josh, 10 years old

Some children wrote violent thoughts almost as if the thought of war or terrorism was another video game or movie-of-the-week. Children, mostly boys, wanted to “blow up” Osama bin Laden or “wipe out bad guys.” The writing of some children definitely expressed aggression toward those who they perceived as enemies. Other children expressed their anger at a situation that they felt was wrong, and others at a world in which they knew they really had no control.

Patriotism and Protest
“My country will protect me.” – Brittany, 9 years old

Some children’s writing expressed patriotic thoughts and complete confidence in the United States’ supremacy as a nation. It is impossible to gather through this survey exercise if these children truly believed this or if they responded with remarks they heard in the media or through adults they are in contact with.

“War takes innocent lives, no matter what precautions may be taken. Before a nation involves itself in such a conflict, it should think about whether the means justify the end; in most cases there is an alternative to war.” – Katherine, 17 years old

Other children, especially high-school age children who wrote in to an email address to respond to the survey, expressed intellectual concerns about the prospect of war and offered their ideas about alternatives to war. Some of these children definitely opposed, and made it clear that they were in protest of this war. It was clear that many older children thought a lot about the reality of a war and how it might impact their lives.

Sadness
“I used to think that war was cool with the bombs and everything, but now I can’t stand it. I wish it would stop.” – Jeff, 14 years old

Finally, practically all of the surveys expressed sadness, depression, and regret about the death that comes with war and terrorism. These children all knew and understood that war and terrorism always takes lives. Many of these children used words that made it clear that they understood the devastation of war on people besides the military. They often used words like “families,” “children,” and “innocent people.” Almost all the surveys made it clear that children not only know what is going on, but they feel very sad about it.

What Does It All Mean?
Although this is a rather informal survey response from a small sample of 60 children, it is important information. Sometimes, as adults, we forget that children are directly affected by what is going on in the world, that they feel afraid and sad, and that they are, for the most part, opposed to violence and don’t like war. We need to know that, on many levels, they are aware of what is going on in the world. We need to listen to their fears and respect their opinions-because they definitely have them, and they are willing to talk about what they think and how they feel. We can learn to better support our children through this difficult time. We can listen to their uncomplicated wisdom. We can act in their best interests. We can let them help us make the world a better place. We must always remember to listen to our children.

“People should not die. Our world is precious.” – Gracie, age 8
Copyright ©  Caron B. Goode. All rights reserved.

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About The Author …
Caron Goode’s (EdD) insights are drawn from her fifteen years in private psychotherapy practice and thirty years of experience in the fields of education, personal empowerment, and health and wellness. She is the author of eight books and the founder of the Academy for Coaching Parents, a training program for parents & professionals who wish to mentor other parents. A mom and step-mom, she and her husband live in Whitney, Texas. Reach her at caronbgoode@inspiredparenting.net.

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