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Talking to My Five-Year-Old about Syria

My son is five. On the day the Paris attacks happened, he and I attended a vigil in a nearby neighborhood with a few friends. At that time we merely explained to him that some people had been hurt and that we were gathering to remember their lives and remind people that peace is possible between all people.

He knows I am an activist but rarely asks me much about it. I am conservative about bringing him to rallies and protests, but I always emphasize the efforts of people to correct the wrongs we see in the world.

Recently I have been helping to gather baby carriers for refugees who are fleeing Syria. My son asked why there was a box of carriers, and I explained that we were gathering them for people who had been forced to leave their homes, many of them carrying little ones in their arms for days. I showed him on a map where Syria was, and he was satisfied and moved on.

I have heard RC family-work leaders say not to answer questions that children aren’t asking and not to act on our own urgency or fear. This has been helpful in the past week as my son has been processing the information he is taking in at his own pace.

Last night as he and I were falling asleep together, he turned to me and said he was very sad about the families who’d had to carry their babies because they had lost their homes. He asked me if wars were real. (He has plenty of exposure to violence in Star Wars and video games and from older friends showing him things after school.) He had a lot of questions, and for about forty minutes we talked quietly about the confusion of people who run our society and put wealth and power above human life.

We talked about why governments have wrong policies and how when people are scared, it’s hard for them to remember that people don’t need violence. He was heartbroken to hear that our own government could hurt people and said that he wanted to tell the government that what it was doing was wrong. (He also said he wanted to feed all the fighting sides kidney beans, so that maybe they’d get distracted and forget to fight—which would probably accomplish more than the current strategies.) We talked about writing letters to the governments saying to stop dropping bombs, and to the refugees saying we love them, and about sending more carriers to hold the children.

Both my partner and I let our son know that he could take his time to understand all this. We also told him that adults struggle to understand and act against war.

He asked at one point if children like him were getting killed. I declined to answer, saying I didn’t think talking about that would help him understand. (It was far too emotional for me. I am Irish heritage, and although I have worked on feelings about Irish children having died under colonialism, I still struggle to know that my son is safe and will survive.) I held him in my arms or on my lap through the whole conversation, offering him chances to cry and crying a little myself. He sweated a fair amount and told me that he was angry and scared and upset. I let him know that I was so glad he was with me in the world, reminding me of how wonderful people are and how hopeful life is.

When he was satisfied, I cuddled and kissed him, which made him laugh. He wound up* rolling around laughing until he settled down to sleep peacefully. I even heard him laughing in his sleep.

This morning he was cheerful and relaxed. He did ask my husband a couple of questions but didn’t dwell on the subject. I am pleased with how we navigated the conversation and am sure it will continue in all manner of ways.



Reprinted from the RC e-mail discussion list for leaders of parents

(Present Time 183, April 2016)

* “Wound up” means ended up.

Last modified: 2022-12-25 10:17:04+00