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When we were younger, Craig wanted to be a doctor. But this changed when he visited Serbia in 1996 at age 16 as spokesperson for the First Children's Embassy in Bosnia. Craig met a 14-year-old boy who told him how he had fled to Kosovo during the breakup of Yugoslavia and now lived in the refugee camp. The boy had never known a day of peace in his life. Craig asked him, "What do you want to do when you're older?" and shared his own dream of becoming a doctor. The boy finally said, "You know what would be nice? If we didn't need doctors anymore because bombs didn't fall in the first place." That moment forever diverted Craig's path from medicine to peace and conflict studies.
Making sense of violence
This November 11, children in schools across Canada will stop to honour the wartime sacrifices made by our armed forces. We remember these heroes of the past for the gift of security and freedom that many of us enjoy today. But a safe and secure world is not the reality for all. Children are exposed to violence in myriad ways, whether they witness bullying or see media coverage of events in Afghanistan. Yet we struggle with how to talk to children about war and violence.
Sociologists and psychologists say age seven is a suitable time to raise the topic, but it may be necessary to talk about it as young as age four given that our world is awash in images of violence. If it is not openly discussed, children run the risk of falling prey to apathy or fear. Believing war is relegated to other parts of the world, children may feel untouched by it and not feel the need to act. Since children cannot close their eyes to the violence, they may close their hearts, becoming desensitized and apathetic. On the other hand, if they are confused about the images they see on television, children may be overwhelmed by fears and anxieties.
Questions to ask your children about violence
Ask your kids how they feel about violence; listen and reassure them they are safe. Don't prompt or lead them but, instead, be open and sensitive to their responses. You can also introduce topics such as empathy by asking if they can imagine themselves in the place of children living in war. How would they feel? How do they think those kids must feel? The goal is to nurture compassion and empower them to take action for a peaceful world.
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5 tips for getting kids involved in the peace process
1. Plant a peace garden or a tree in honour of our war veterans. Talk about the significance of planting seeds that will one day grow to be something beautiful. How does this represent peace?
2. Choose a couple of news stories from the newspaper, radio or television about a current conflict and read, listen or watch them together. Ask your child: Whose point of view is expressed in the story? What other voices or points of view are missing? What does he think the other voices would say?
3. Brainstorm with your child a list of heroes in our cities who also teach and promote peace. How do these people play a part in the peace process? Examples can include police officers, firefighters, medical personnel, rescue workers, teachers, and so forth.
4. Ask your child what she thinks she may have in common with a child from another region where conflict may be happening. Do some research together to learn more about the culture, traditions and politics of the conflict region.
5. Volunteer at a new immigrants' centre to learn more about different cultures and the hardships people face when settling in a different country. What can you and your child teach them about Canada? What can you learn from them about their world?Read more: 5 great places to volunteer with your teen.
Craig and Marc Keilburger are the ambassadors of the Canadian-based Free the Children (www.freethechildren.com) organization, the largest network of children helping children through education in the world.
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