Talking About War With 5 Year Olds

GG had a story to tell me when I got home from work today.

“Mama, there’s this country near us, and in it there are mostly good people but also some bad people. And they fired a missile at us because they want to take our country away from us.

They want to kill us.”

I guess it’s not an entirely inaccurate summary of today’s news, actually. But how is this coming from my 5-year-old son?

I take a deep breath as he speaks,

I get down at eye level, listening. My response seems crucial here. What’s my message?

GG’s friend has something to share, too. When the rocket alert siren went off, his parents and sisters came into the room while he was sleeping. His bedroom is the bomb shelter.

This is how kids growing up in conflict get initiated into their respective national mindsets. Talk of violent, mortal danger at the dinner table, waiting for the cookies in the oven to finish baking. Fear as a way of life, the omnipresent, evil enemy is out to get us.

By the time they finish talking I know what I want to get across. That they’re safe, that we’ve always got their backs. That we’re the lucky ones in this story. And that there are no baddies, just people doing bad things.

I ask a few more questions. They don’t seem scared, they’re telling me these stories like they’re talking about Batman. But the fact that we’re having this conversation makes my eyes sting with tears.

I tell GG that I loved what he said about there being mainly good people in that other country. And I tell them both that if there are any more sirens, they just need to follow instructions from the adults they’re with and they’ll be safe.

They know, of course. They’ve done drills at kindergarten.

The conversation drifts and that’s it. They’re back to the LEGO. I hope it doesn’t come up again for many years, but I know that’s unlikely. I guess all we can do right now is make sure our kids know they’re safe. And teach them about kindness, acceptance and keeping an open mind… in the hope that they won’t be having these conversations with their own kids in 30 years’ time.

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