5 ways to encourage peace-loving kids

Free the Children shares ideas for supporting youth who want peace on Earth

By Craig and Marc Kielburger

Growing up with violence
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Web exclusive: 5 tips for getting kids actively involved in the peace process.

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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