Explaining war to kids is always hard, but when you’re part of a military family, the task is even more difficult because it’s so personal. When my sons were little, their father was in the Navy Reserve as an intelligence officer with the Seabees, the Navy’s construction division. The boys understood what the military was in a very hazy “It must involve a ship, Daddy going away, and a large yellow bee” kind of way. But because their father wasn’t directly in harm’s way, I was able to gloss over hard questions about war and just concentrate on the fun parts of having a dad in the military from a toddler’s perspective — serving the country and wearing really cool hats. When my brother, a soldier in the Ohio National Guard, went off to Kuwait three years ago, that explanation no longer seemed sufficient. While Uncle Bryan wasn’t hunting Taliban in Afghanistan, our family still worried about him and his safety. To keep the boys connected to their uncle, we checked his unit’s Web page with photos posted for family and friends, looking for that familiar face. On one night, my son asked to see a photo of an “Army truck” and I found him a few Humvee photos. On the back of each vehicle was a large placard with two stop signs and a message in Arabic and English. It read “DANGER STAY BACK.” My 3-year-old wanted to know why they had signs on the trucks. I tried the standard, “Well, cars and people could get hurt by that big Army truck if they get too close.” He wasn’t buying it, pointing out that tractors are bigger. So I said, perhaps rashly, “Sometimes bad people try to get too close to the trucks and blow them up.” I’ll never forget the look on his face. The idea that someone might want to hurt his uncle was incomprehensible to him. I believe it was the first moment he realized that bad things don’t just happen in nightmares. The moment was a first for me, too, as I realized that my military family would walk a fine line between explaining what Daddy and Uncle Bryan do and letting my children be children for as long as possible. In our military community, my children and their classmates understand more than most kindergartners should about the mechanics of war. My sons, now 5 and 6 years old, can identify military aircraft flying overhead, they can tell you what an R.P.G. or an I.E.D. is, and they know that Seals aren’t just found lying on the rocks in the sun. But war isn’t just a cool game for the playground; it’s horrible and dirty and fraught with shades of gray. That’s where it gets hard....
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...How have you explained war to your children?
Current AD Military Spouses: Do you think being part of a military family makes it more difficult or easier to explain war?Answer Question
Only in the most basic form. DD doesn't really get it, but DS does. He is very interested in any kind of history and anything having to do with military. Sometimes he comes home with ideas of what is going on, but it's usually only half the story. We have to challenge his thinking with another side so that he understands that war and military action is rarely one sided.
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