Memorial Day and Children: More than a Day Off

A child-fiving a soldier in a wheelchair

Talking to Children about War and Military Service

The armed services and military actions may or may not be interesting to children. It may be something exciting and something to figure out and understand. The opposition to war and peace movements may also be interesting to children. Whether we are in favor of the current war or opposed, supporters or foes of national policies, Memorial Day is a day that we can help our children understand our world view articulated in language they are developmentally able to understand. They can benefit from knowing our political and moral thinking, our wisdom and our values.

It’s not always easy discussing the need for a military and war with children. How do we respond to their questions about the reasons for war, morality of war, and the violence they may witness on the news? When talking to younger children about serious topics like death, war or military service, there are some important things to remember:

  • Tailor your response to the individual child—keep in mind the child's age, personality and level of interest.
  • Ask what the child knows and thinks about "war," “army," "death," or “sacrifice” and answer their questions without over-explaining and providing more details than necessary.
  • We can help children understand that war is a terrible thing, regardless of whether one believes it is necessary or not. We can tell children (in a way that is appropriate for their developmental level) that sometimes the only thing that most people think we can do to stop very bad people or governments is to use military power. Or sometimes people in power make mistakes, don’t think, do bad things, or other reasons you may believe that wars begin.
  • When younger children ask “why do people hurt others or kill?” we can answer that “there are some people or countries in this world who haven’t learned how to live with people they don’t agree with. They live in different places. And sometimes they do terrible, awful things to hurt people. But there are many more people who do know how to get along, and they are all over the world working hard to stop these people who do terrible things."
  • Children may have trouble understanding that adults don’t all share the same feelings about something as important as war. Children may not understand how someone could support the United States and not support the war. “Some people feel war is a terrible thing, but believe it is sometimes necessary; while others feel strongly that war, or this war, is not necessary and is bad for the United States. Some people want the government to change its mind, stop the war, and bring the troops home.”
  • We can help children recognize that military service is something to be honored and men and women who are part of the armed services are serving their country. Bravery, working together, and sacrifice are part of war and some people make the ultimate sacrifice.

Helping Children Honor and Support Those in the Armed Services

If you wish to help children make connections to those serving in the military today, the following websites are good resources:

More on Talking to Children About Crises

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Bright Horizons
Bright Horizons
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A child-fiving a soldier in a wheelchair