Explaining War to Young Children

The following are taken from a discussion, on the RC e-mail discussion list for leaders of parents, about explaining war to young children. (See also page 14 of the January 2018 Present Time.)

I’ve had a lot of Co-Counseling sessions about my daughter “losing her innocence” around topics like war.

At age six she understood RC terminology, so I was able to say things about distress. But when she was seven or eight, she said, “Well, at least there isn’t anything that could kill a lot of people all at once!” I started to cry and said that this had, actually, been invented and that it was so sad that distresses could lead to it. Then I told her, with a hopeful smile and a zesty tone of voice, that there were lots of people around the world fighting to end war. I described some of the work Julian Weissglass (the International Commonality Reference Person for Wide World Change) does in RC, and she has since admired the peace activism of a leading political figure here in England.

It seemed important not to be numb about the topic of war (like everyone was around me when I was growing up) but also not to be discharging in a scary way for her.

I’m interested to hear what other parents have figured out.





I’ve managed to address this by using language we already use in our family for talking about why people do anything hurtful to each other. We say that they are confused—confused about how to get their own feelings out, confused about how to solve a problem in a way that works for everyone. I’ve tried explaining war as something that happens when a lot of people get confused all together, about another group of people or about how to solve a really big problem.

So far this has made sense to my son (he’s now eight). But at times he shows me that his understanding of war from our discussions has led him to believe that it is something that used to happen but doesn’t anymore. I have more discharging to do to feel relaxed about talking with him about the mass violence in our world today.

My tone has been one of sadness and regret. I’d love to be able to also talk about the subject with hope and conviction that we can make big changes together.





As a Jewish female, I’ve thought about this a fair amount in terms of the Holocaust. I’ve tried to think about the distress patterns I don’t want to pass down—namely (to the extent possible) terror. I’ve shared the view that over the course of history lots of people have gotten scared about not having what they needed and have taken their fears out on different groups of people. Then the hurts have been passed on and repeated.

I’ve also said that throughout history lots of people have taken a stand against this, as we do, and that we will keep organizing to put an end to all forms of humans harming humans.

My children have enjoyed anti-war songs, especially some funny ones.

I have tried to be honest about (some of) the horrors of colonialism, war, and so on, without dwelling on them. Sometimes my children start asking lots of questions. I answer some, but then shift to playful contact when it looks like fear hungering for more fodder.





As the mother of a boy (now sixteen) I have discharged on my own relationship to war, how my family has been involved in wars, and my fears of my son being forced to go to war.

Going to Julian’s Healing from War Workshops has helped me un-numb from the horrors of wars and sift through the “information” I gathered about war growing up. This has helped me to think more clearly about my son as a boy growing up in this world and to talk with him from a more relaxed, informed perspective about violence.

When he was little, stories of the violence in the world were much too scary for him. But it was part of the “wallpaper” we lived with every day, and I knew it did not make sense to pretend it wasn’t there. Discharging on being female and on sexual violence, sexual exploitation, and pornography opened up more attention for me to talk with my son about war, and violence in general. Being able to name the distresses at work in the world seemed like an important way to feel more powerful and in charge in the face of what was happening. Still, I struggled to find attention to talk with him about something that is so distressed and makes no sense at all.

When my son was about seven, we read two books—The Sneetches and The Butter Battle Book, by Doctor Seuss (Theodor Seuss Geisel)—that gave us an opportunity to talk, laugh, get outraged, and think together about distress patterns, violence, and men’s oppression. The books were written to get people thinking about anti-Semitism, racism, and the nuclear arms race, and the absurdity of these things is made brilliantly clear in the imaginative stories. They provided just the right balance of attention for us to ask, “Why would anyone ever want to act like this? They must be really confused—hmm, how do people get hurt like this? What can we do about it?” They were nice “launching pads” for his questions and fears.

I also kept a close eye on the tracks of men’s oppression on my son. I discharged about it and found creative ways to encourage him to connect with people, be expressive (through the arts and other fun ventures), and stay in touch with his own feelings and his empathy for others.

Now that he is older and in RC, we talk about men’s oppression, violence, sexism, and male domination, We name them directly and counsel about them. He also has some solid male Co-Counselors who are very thoughtful and play an important role with him.

Thanks to all of you who have written. It is nice to know that we are in this project and figuring this out together.



(Present Time 191, April 2018)

Last modified: 2018-07-29 12:16:36+00