She said she was scared to go to school. There could be shooting. She had heard it on the news.
She was not alone. I know a parent of another 10-year-old who attended a full day of school with his son. The son was frightened after hearing his older brothers discussing the Persian Gulf war. A child's sense of time and distance can make remote events very personal, especially when there are some very personal connections like having a brother in the National Guard.The television scene of an Israeli mother fitting her child with a gas mask and putting a protective cover over a bassinet was juxtaposed against the fiery night scenes of Baghdad and gave us all pause, and at least for an instant our imaginations confused time and distance. What if this were my family? I'm frightened with you, Amy.
I don't understand all the principles of child psychology that apply here, but my memory is long enough that I can remember what seemed to help me through frightening moments. The key may be in the comfort of loving people with honest information. Even those of us confused by the complexity of it all need to be willing to talk with our children. Holding them in our arms at bed-time may be the most comforting security we can offer when we ourselves are confused. Talking helps, too.
"Did your teacher talk about the war?"
"She told us about it and showed us a map. She said that we are trying to help."
"What did the map tell you?"
"It looks like a long way but they could come here in their crud missiles."
"You think they would come here?"
"My teacher said that they wouldn't."
"Your teacher is right."
"Are there kids like me over there?"
"Yes, I'm afraid there are."
"Are they afraid?"
"Are you afraid?"
"Yes, I'm afraid, but I'm probably afraid of different things than you are. I'm not afraid of walking to school because we are a long way from the war. I'm afraid because you are afraid. People who grow up with fear all the time miss out on some wonderful things in our world because they are afraid to look. People who are afraid don't discover new ideas and new friends.
"I'm also afraid that there are some kids like you who will see all the frightening pictures on TV and not be frightened. The pictures may look like pretend to some kids. They may think that they are just like some of the other things they see on TV. Some kids may think that war looks like some video game or that everyone will really be OK in the end.
"Some kids at the school may think that war is like some ball game with instant replays and cheers. I deeply appreciate the soldiers that are representing us but I can't cheer for destruction and death.
"I am also afraid for the kids like you that have seen war now for more than eight years. They may grow up to hate everyone. It's hard to make friends with someone who sees fighting all the time. They may not learn that they can solve problems without fighting. If they only learn to fight, then that is what they will teach their own children when they grow up and fighting will become a way of life.
"I wish I could just tell you not to worry, that everything will be all right. I can tell you that you don't have to worry about walking to school. I can tell you that if we all learn to be afraid of war that our world will be safer. I can tell you that your prayers and my prayers will help us to be less afraid and that if we hold each other we'll both be less afraid."
- Roger Baker is an associate professor at Snow College.