It is probably fair to say that most parents and teachers will have fielded some tricky questions about conflict in the world today over recent weeks. When the news is dire, it is impossible to fully shield children from the sights and sounds of war, from the fear and the speculation, and from the knock-on impact they may see in their own communities.
Being able to speak to children about conflict in a way that explains and, where appropriate, reassures, is key. Trying to pretend that nothing is happening when it clearly is may well lead to further anxiety, and being too explicit about the details of conflict and war is invariably inappropriate. Clearly a balance must be struck.
However, the wider context of conflict in the world reveals some shocking statistics. The Council on Foreign Relations’ Global Conflict Tracker reveals numerous conflicts around the world, from power struggles and instability, to full blown war. Conflict looks to be on the increase and the statistics on the numbers of people displaced by violence (not to mention the climate emergency) are startling.
When tackling some of the issues around global conflict with the children you teach these ideas may help:
- Listen – be guided by what your children say. Some may want more information, some may be scared, some may be angry and some indifferent. Allowing time for children to talk about what they understand and how they are feeling about that will be invaluable. Be mindful, however, that your own response to the situation being discussed may be visible to the children. This is about understanding and compassion, especially when distant conflicts are having a knock-on effect in your local area.
- Inform – Use reliable, age-appropriate sources for informing children about conflict in the world. Not all news outlets are as accurate as they might be so aim for unbiased sources as far as possible. For children, Newsround is rated highly, although there are other sources such as The Week Junior that may be useful.
- Contain – Conflict is most likely to be discussed in tutor time, or in PSHE and citizenship, but it might also come up in history or geography lessons. Aim to keep these discussions contained within these areas of the curriculum so that they don’t spill over into other areas. This will help to maintain a sense of predictability for children and a sense of respite too.
- Explore – discussing conflict can be a way of exploring the notion of bias and prejudice and they ways in which we might understand, control and transform these.
- Examine – what are the ways in which the conflict under discussion is being responded to around the world? What is the humanitarian response? Are there any protests or demonstrations? What is each side saying?
- Influence – help children to understand how much influence and control they have in certain situations. If they are feeling anxious about what they are seeing or hearing about conflict in the world, what can they control and influence in their immediate circle?
- Support – is there anything that can be done to support those who are affected by conflict in the world? Can you raise money as a school for relief charities? Can you send food or clothing to those who need it? Taking an active approach to supporting those in need can greatly help to address feelings of uselessness and overwhelm.
- Revisit – revisit your school’s values and discuss the need for us to work at understanding each other, and the ways in which conflict is resolved within your school’s community. Have a special focus on our humanity and the ways in which we take compassionate action for one another.
- Care – these conversations can be challenging for both teachers and pupils. Being aware of this and taking care over how they are opened and closed can help to ensure that they are as supportive and educational as possible.
- Self-care – times of global instability are challenging for everyone, adults included. Making sense of the world and our place within it, and trying to navigate positive paths for the children we teach can seem like an impossible task sometimes. If you are feeling overwhelmed, talk to someone. A friend, family, your GP, a counsellor, Education Support – talk to whoever can help you to see a way forward. You do not have to struggle on alone.
These are undoubtedly bleak times, and we can be forgiven for wanting to avoid current news cycles for the sake of our own mental health and equilibrium. Yet while there is much to be said for preserving our mental peace, we all, children included, have to build our resilience in the face of global conflict. It exists, and controlling the information we give children is often far healthier than withholding it.
Find out more…
- Global Conflict Tracker l Council on Foreign Relations (cfr.org)
- Violence, insecurity and climate change drive 84 million people from their homes | UN News
- Home - CBBC Newsround
- How to Talk With Kids About the War in Gaza and… (berkeley.edu)
About the author
After graduating with a degree in Politics and International Relations from the University of Reading, Elizabeth Holmes completed her PGCE at the Institute of Education, University of London. She then taught humanities and social sciences in schools in London, Oxfordshire and West Sussex, where she ran the history department in a challenging comprehensive. Elizabeth specialises in education but also writes on many other issues and themes. As well as her regular blogs for Eteach and FEjobs, her books have been published by a variety of publishers and translated around the world. Elizabeth has also taught on education courses in HE and presented at national and international conferences.