April 01, 2002
After talking to 5-year-olds about the war, and getting a glimpse of the conflict through their eyes, Dr. Phil offers advice for parents on explaining the unexplainable.
Dr. Phil has two rules when dealing with children:
1) Never ask kids to deal with adult issues.
2) Don’t ever allow them to feel responsible for things over which they have no influence and control.
It is also imperative to be age-appropriate. “The war is highly irrelevant to young children ages 4, 5, 6 or 7,” says Dr. Phil. “It is not even something they can get their minds around. Don’t make it relevant when it’s not. Don’t feel that as a good parent you need to sit down and talk about it.”
However, if they’ve seen images on TV and have questions, you should answer them in an age-appropriate manner. For example, explain things in terms of good and evil. Tell them that there are some bad people in the world who are really hurting their neighbors, and those of us in America feel like we need to stop it so they don’t come over here and do the same thing.
When Dr. Phil spoke with kindergartners, one of them approached him and asked, “You know why we have the war?” The child went on to say, “Because they didn’t use their words.” Children are taught that they should use their words to deal with other people, so they view the war the same way they might view any argument. It can be very simplistic for young kids, Dr. Phil says, recalling a saying: “War was never so ugly as when it had to be explained to a child.”
Dr. Phil cautions against letting your children see too many of the images on TV, particularly because children are visual learners. After 9/11, a lot of children thought that every time they saw a replay of one of the towers being knocked down, that a new building was being destroyed. Also, young children do not have any sense of geography, so they may think that what they’re seeing is happening across the street or at their school. If you let them watch news, watch it with them. Ask them if they have any questions.
As they get into early adolescence and high school, they may have more interest in the conflict. “Let’s face it, they’ve watched these things in Die Hard and Terminator movies, and now here it is for real,” says Dr. Phil, recognizing that it may have entertainment value for them. “Make sure they understand that there are people impacted by this, and that we don’t take it lightly. Ask them their opinions. Solicit questions and answer them truthfully in an age-appropriate way,” he suggests.
“The best way to make sure children don’t become obsessed with watching the news is to make sure that we don’t,” says Dr. Phil. “It’s easy to become addicted to this, and children can get into information overload very quickly. We must maintain balance… Require your children to do other activities so they don’t become obsessed or overwhelmed by the nature of what’s going on.”