How can parents talk to children about war and peace?
This is the key question of the interview with Carla Rinaldi, president of Fondazione Reggio Children, by the press agency Dire, which published it in full on their website https://www.dire.it/05-03-2022/713325-minori-il-covid-e-poi-la-guerra-genitori-evitate-la-comfort-zone/.
“Don’t deny, listen, share, reassure, narrate, react with solidarity and education to peace” is the recap of the response from the pedagogista. Explaining is difficult because “war doesn’t make sense”. Create, then, “a deep alliance between parents and children”.
“The Covid period caused children not only many constraints but probably also transmitted to them our fear of contagion: the term fear is perhaps one of the words that more than any other has characterized this time and also children’s lives”, explains Rinaldi. “Although children have strong antibodies to react, the accumulation of states of fear, especially unexpressed, not participated in by and with others, starting with parents and school, can be something that really creates a state of anxiety with signs that are not always visible or perceptible”.
Speaking and listening to the 100 languages. First of all, therefore, “fears need to be talked about, or rather, they need to be listened to where they occur”. Certainly, through words, but sometimes children also speak with the “hundred languages”, as it is expressed in Loris Malaguzzi’s philosophy, and they tell their fears by drawing or playing. So “we need to raise our sensitivity and pick up on those elements that convey to us when it is time to talk and be around children, who listen to everything”.
Don’t hide, children know. Second, there is no point in pretending that the war is not there or trying to hide it, perhaps by turning off the television. “We shall always remember – warns Rinaldi – that today’s children are immersed in images and decode them more acutely and quickly than they used to, and they ask themselves why. Children are the greatest seekers of meaning in things, and war is so difficult precisely because it doesn’t make sense. This embarrasses us and keeps us from explaining ourselves”.
Empathy and geography. In addition, “children are empathetic, so they almost certainly become those who cry in Ukraine”. Therefore, “we must help them not by denying, but by creating not a sweetened zone but an area of protection”. How? “Definitely, – explains Rinaldi – it is better to be authentic also because children know what is happening. They need to be given a meaning, but above all a dimension and a proportion of the events and, to make them understand that there is a distance, even geographical, with their lives”.
Reassuring and educating for peace. Then the younger ones should be encouraged “by saying that the ‘grown-ups’ are trying to find a solution, trying to explain that war is not the way to solve problems and educate to peace in everyday life”. Even with gestures of solidarity towards those same children for whom they weep.
And again, says the president of Fondazione, “we must help them without telling falsities but sharing emotions and reassuring them that we will be with them anyway. Maybe even with the caresses and hugs that are no small matter at all”.
An alliance between children and parents. Rinaldi continues: “Another difficult concept to address with children is that of death; children know that you can die and that war and death are linked. These are the concepts that adults are afraid of, but the child is asking for them. Children don’t know exactly what war is, but they want to understand and give reasons for it. They don’t know exactly what death is but they want to dive in and get answers”.
Narratives against loneliness. Thus, on this level, a “narration” of what happens, differentiated according to age, with gestures and with fairy tales can also help. A narrative that “above all else repeats the fact that they are not alone and together we will deal with this. In these moments I’m a big believer in the alliance between children and parents and the reassuring alliance that can happen at school with other children and teachers”.
Together against fear. Rinaldi reiterates her message with a quote by the English writer Gilbert Keith Chesterton, according to whom “fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell children that dragons exist, they already know, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten”. How “to beat the dragons of our time – war, death and fear – is a problem we have in common with children, and it is there that the deepest alliance between adults and children, between parents and children, can help”, concludes the president of Fondazione Reggio Children.
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