Discussing the War in the Classroom

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Some local teachers take time to discuss war, and the students say it helps.As the U.S. prepares for war for the first time in more than a decade, area schools are taking time to put aside the books and talk about what war could mean for students, their families and America.

On the heels of an important address by President Bush, Mr. Bier's world history class takes a break from the American Revolution, to discuss Saddam Hussein and war with Iraq.

"It's kind of stressful just knowing that there could be a war that might happen. It's kind of scary. I hope the best of it," said Matt Davidson, Lutheran 10th grader.

During the last Gulf War, most of the in school right now kids were watching Sesame Street. But now they're old enough to understand and develop opinions on where U.S. leaders are taking our country.

"It's something that has to be done. It's something we can't put off. We've tried to help Saddam but he just doesn't want to help. So it's what we have to do," said Shannon Arnold, Lutheran 10th grader.

History teacher Rick Bier says students are living through these events and can learn much by connecting them with the past.

"The students filter in the history they realize that these things are happening and they can kind of paint the picture or put the puzzle together as they go along," Bier said.

In less than two years, these students have witnessed 9-11, a space shuttle explosion and now a war. They're surprisingly in tune with what's gone on at the UN and the president's ultimatum to Saddam. And they too anxiously await how it will all play out.

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Talking to Kids About Fear and Violence

Recent acts of violence in the Washington, D.C metropolitan area and the resulting intense media coverage bring safety issues to the forefront for all of us. However, children, in particular, may experience anxiety, fear, and a sense of personal risk. They may also sense anxiety and tension in adults around them. Knowing how to talk with your child about violence will play an important role in easing fear and anxieties about their personal safety.

To guide parents through discussions about fear and violence, the National Mental Health Association (NMHA) offers the following suggestions:

  • Encourage children to talk about their concerns and to express their feelings. Some children may be hesitant to initiate such conversation, so you may want to prompt them by asking if they feel safe at school, in their neighborhood, or in public places. When talking with younger children remember to talk on their level. For example, they may not understand the term “violence” but can talk to you about being afraid or a classmate who is mean to them. Encourage them to express their feelings through talking, drawing or playing.

  • Validate the child’s feelings. Do not minimize a child’s concerns. Let him/her know that serious acts of violence are not common, which is why incidents such as these shootings and the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks attract so much media attention.

  • Talk honestly about your own feelings regarding violence. It is important for children to recognize they are not dealing with their fears alone. Don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know.” Part of keeping discussion open is not being afraid to say you don’t know how to answer a child’s question. When such an occasion arises, explain to your child that these acts of violence are rare, and they cause feelings that even adults have trouble dealing with. Temper this by explaining that, even so, adults will always work very hard to keep children safe and secure.

  • Discuss the safety procedures that are in place at your child’s school, in your neighborhood, and in other public places. Arrange a presentation by McGruff the Crime Dog, a member of the local police force, or a neighborhood watch captain.

  • Create safety plans with your child. Help identify which adults (a friendly secretary, trusted neighbor or security guard) your child can talk to if they should feel threatened. Also ensure that your child knows how to reach you (or another family member or friend) in case of crisis. Remind your child that they can talk to you anytime they feel threatened.

  • Recognize behavior that may indicate your child is concerned about their safety. Younger children may react to violence by not wanting to attend school or go out in public. Behavior such as bed-wetting, thumb sucking, baby talk, or a fear of sleeping alone may intensify in some younger children, or reappear in children who had previously outgrown them. Teens and adolescents may minimize their concerns outwardly, but may become argumentative, withdrawn, or allow their school performance to decline.

  • Empower children to take action regarding their safety. Encourage them to report specific incidents (such as bullying, threats or talk of suicide) and to develop problem solving and conflict resolution skills. Encourage older children to actively participate in student-run anti-violence programs

  • Keep the dialogue going and make safety a common topic in family discussions rather than just a response to an immediate crisis. Open dialogue will encourage children to share their concerns.

  • Seek help when necessary. If you are worried about a child’s reaction or have ongoing concerns about his/her behavior or emotions, contact your pediatrician or a mental health professional at school or at your community mental health center. Your local Mental Health Association or the National Mental Health Association’s Information Center can direct you to resources in your community.

Source: http://www.nmha.org (National Mental Health Association Web site) contributed to this report.