A child’s world should be full of imagination and discovery, exploration and wonder. So when they become old enough to wonder about the meaning of memorial holidays, we can be caught off guard. It’s almost as if their simple innocence is on the chopping block. We don’t want them to know about the horrible things people have done to one another throughout history. But we can’t, and shouldn’t, keep them from the truth. Instead, we need to educate them and help them process their thoughts and emotions in a positive, constructive way. You know your children best and can gauge the amount of information they can handle, but here are a few tips to get you on your way.
Be Honest and Present Facts
Your kids will at some point want to know why you have an extra day off from work, why school is closed, or why you’re having a BBQ. Just tell them the importance of the day and why you celebrate it. You don’t need to go into gory details or explain concepts that are not age appropriate. A preschooler does not want to hear about the complexities of cultural differences and their influence on events. He simply wants to know what “Memorial Day” means. If your child asks for more details, be specific. Using phrases like “passed away” or “moved on” to describe death can be confusing. Be gently honest with them about what happened and state that people died. The honesty and finality of it allow them to understand in clear terms without creating confusion.
Ask Open-Ended Questions
Children are inquisitive little creatures, so let them guide the discussion with their own questions. Ask them open-ended questions about their feelings in order to avoid projecting your own fears onto your child. Ask, “How does that make you feel?” instead of, “Does that make you afraid something will happen to daddy or mommy?”
Teach Them How to Process Their Emotions
Emotions are not bad, but they can certainly be big. For children with parents in the military, memorial holidays can be particularly scary:
- Do not lie to them. Don’t tell them it won’t happen to their parent, because that’s unfortunately not a promise you can keep. Instead, encourage them with hope and purpose for today. We hope something tragic won’t happen, and we train to avoid it. We look out for one another, so we stay safer. We learn how to communicate with other people, so we can avoid violent conflict as much as possible.
- Show them it’s OK to be emotional. It’s OK to be mad that millions of people were murdered during the Holocaust. It’s OK to cry on Memorial Day as you remember a family friend. Emotions should not be bottled up in you or your child. Show them it’s safe for them to feel those emotions around you, and then teach them what to do with them. When we feel angry, do we take it out on someone or something else? No, that’s not appropriate or helpful. When we feel sad, do we let that turn into fear of the future? No, that’s also not helpful or healthy. Help them find positive outlets for those emotions.
What We Can Do
The very fact that we have a holiday at all shows that even as adults, we want to have something we can do. Children (and adults for that matter) can feel overwhelmed by the scope and scale of horror in the world. Instead of being crushed by that, turn it into something productive. Put flags out on Memorial Day, volunteer, or take dinner to a local veteran. These actions won’t change the fact that someone died, but they give children positive emotional outlets and a chance to do something that matters.
As much as we desperately wish we could, we simply cannot protect our children from the horrors of this world forever. Instead, it’s our responsibility as parents to lovingly teach them how to process their feelings, how to honor those who’ve died, and how to go boldly in their lives with confidence and without fear.
To find more ways to talk to your kids about the tough topics and parent with intent, check out our list of Podcasts for Moms.
Photo Credits: Eastern Sky Photography NC