How to talk to your kids about war, violence

Psychologist: Don’t ignore conversation, there are different approaches depending on age

SAN ANTONIO – The images of hostages, suffering families, missiles and destruction of the Israel-Hamas War are flooding televisions and the internet.

It can be overwhelming for anyone, but kids can be more deeply affected since their brains are still developing.

That’s why it’s important to start age-appropriate conversations with your kids about violence they’ve seen.

“It’s overwhelming. Shocking. To me, it’s unbelievable that it’s not some movie,” said Renee Amaro, a mother.

Amaro worries how the violent content from Israel and Gaza will affect her sons.

She is keeping an eye on her 3-year-old, but she’s more concerned about her 18-year-old, who has seen school shootings, wars, even local violence.

“The images on Tik Tok and the videos on Tik Tok. His age group has seen so much strife and so much ugliness and so much that they think it’s normal. Then, they’re not talking about it or they don’t come to parents asking questions about what they see,” Amaro said.

That’s why she took it upon herself to start those conversations.

“Ask them what they have been seen. Ask them what their thoughts are, why they think that. But not talk down to them because then they tune you out,” Amaro said.

For her 3-year-old, it’s about preventing him from seeing violent images.

“We really try to put the phones away when he’s around,” Amaro said.

She also tries to emphasize empathy.

“We use nice hands, we use nice words. We love all of our friends. And there’s so many books now that talk about loving everybody,” Amaro said.

Ecumenical Center Clinical Director Dr. Frank Emmett agreed, saying each age group is different.

For toddlers who have accidentally seen something that scared them, Emmett said, “Let them know that they are safe and secure where they are.”

For preschool age kids, he said, “Being calm, simple language, not going into graphic detail. The KIS method: Keep It Simple.”

“Adolescents need time to process things. Let’s sit down and talk about it. What did you see? How did you feel when you seeing and experiencing?,” Emmett said.

No matter what age group, he said time outside is helpful.

“See nature and see a degree of tranquility that abounds with us and that kind of normalizes things again,” Emmett said.

Taking time out from screens for all ages is important, and that should be up to the parent.

“To continue to immerse yourself hour after hour after hour, it’s like being in battle itself,” Emmett said.

As Amaro’s 18-year-old heads to college, she’s prepared him for the hate speech he might hear.

“What I’ve been seeing on the news about what’s happening on college campuses is very disturbing to me. So, I just want to lay the groundwork for our family’s values and faith,” Amaro said.

All she can do now is hope her son will check his sources, lead with empathy, and reach out if he needs to talk.

About the Authors:

Courtney Friedman anchors KSAT’s weekend evening shows and reports during the week. Her ongoing Loving in Fear series confronts Bexar County’s domestic violence epidemic. She joined KSAT in 2014 and is proud to call the SA and South Texas community home. She came to San Antonio from KYTX CBS 19 in Tyler, where she also anchored & reported.

Adam Barraza is a photojournalist at KSAT 12 and an El Paso native. He interned at KVIA, the local ABC affiliate, while still in high school. He then moved to San Antonio and, after earning a degree from San Antonio College and the University of the Incarnate Word, started working in news. He’s also a diehard Dodgers fan and an avid sneakerhead.