Talking to Your Children about the Threat of Nuclear War
On Nov. 29th, the Today Show reported on North Korea’s latest ballistic missile launch and then my 13-year-old son Tommy asked, “Is North Korea going to bomb us? Mom, is this going to be our last Christmas?”
I was struck by Tommy’s intelligence and lack of innocence in his startling inquiry. I was born in 1963, the year after the Cuban Missile Crisis, and grew up during the Cold War. But I would have never had the wherewithal to ask something such as this. Schools had stopped teaching duck and cover. I don’t think I even knew in junior high what a nuclear bomb was. The only hint I had that these types of weapons existed was the fact that my older brother had a poster on his wall which offered advice about what to do if a nuke bomb went off. It said, “Bend over and kiss your ass goodbye.”
Now, it’s completely different.
Just yesterday, Hawaii reinstated monthly nuclear strike siren tests for the first time since the Cold War. Back in August of this year, the government released information for what to do in the event of nuclear war. It seems we’re getting ready as a country to suffer an attack.
Your children, like Tommy, might be concerned about an international threat this holiday season. The usual activities of making cookies, decorating trees, buying and wrapping presents, singing holiday songs might be overshadowed by what to do in the event of a nuclear war. What do you say to them to calm their fears? To offer hope in this time of political uncertainty? Below are some sentiments you can remind your children of if they’re scared of being harmed this Christmas. (The tips are arranged for the youngest children to the oldest.)
First of all, tell them that the world is full of good things and not-so-good things, that we as human beings must deal with the positives that life brings as well as the negatives. Put it in their terms. You could say something like, “It is fun to experience the good life has to offer like playing video games in your mini-man cave with your best friend Aiden, but you sometimes have to experience bad things like bad dreams and accidents. Remember that time you fell out of the tree and had to go to the emergency room?”
Engage them any way you can. Start a dialogue about something difficult they went through and remind them that they got through it. Be optimistic. You need to engender positive feelings in the face of their understandable negativity.
Next, tell them that they have strong parents or a strong parent who will take care of them in dangerous situations.
Tell them that they themselves possess great inner strength and can persevere in the midst of catastrophe.
If you believe in God, tell them to pray for peace.
After this, put the pen into action. Tell your children to write to their members of congress about voting for the Restricting First Use of Nuclear Weapons Act of 2017. If this is passed, presidents would be unable to unilaterally start a nuclear war without congress’ consent. For more information about this act, go to this website: https://peacealliance.org/petition-restricting-first-use-of-nuclear-weapons-act-of-2017/
Tell them there are steps to take before there is a bombing, such as creating an emergency supply kit and having a family emergency plan.
Finally, you can explain that part of being alive is living with uncertainty. We can’t predict what might happen next, but it’s important to live with happiness and vitality despite this fact.
In conclusion, if your child is afraid of an international threat this holiday season, offer them age-appropriate conversation so that they can air their fears. If they’re old enough, enlist them in writing their members of congress and helping you put together an emergency nuclear supply kit full of, among other things, water and food.
What should you do now? Write and send letters to your members of congress about restricting president’s power during wartime. Then, read what the government published about surviving a nuclear attack — https://www.ready.gov/nuclear-blast.
And try to have a happy holiday.
Yeager, L. (2018). Talking to Your Children about the Threat of Nuclear War. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 31, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/talking-to-your-children-about-the-threat-of-nuclear-war/