"Being able to discuss the nuclear threat in a serious way makes children feel better," says psychologist David Greenwald. "It validates a sense of caring about the world and about the future, which is of paramount importance psychologically for children. The alternative to open discussion seems to be not peaceful bliss and innocence, but apathy, resignation, cynicism." Some suggestions from experts on talking with your children about life in the Nuclear Age:
"You don't have to drag them in off the playgrounds and say, 'Now we're going to talk about nuclear war,' " advises author Joanna Macy. "But if you decide to discuss it, it will come up. If you're watching the news and there's a story about the nuclear arms race, you can say to your child, 'That's really scary to me. How do you feel about it?'
In The Strangelove Legacy, author Phyllis La Farge encourages "an active role" for children learning about the nuclear peril. Basic exercises in democracy can take many forms: writing letters to the president, drawing pictures about their fears, putting on a peace play at school. Participatory activity gives the child a "sense of empowerment and responsibility" and helps combat the feeling of helplessness.
Macy suggests parents work out their own feelings first so as not to vent their own fear, anger and sorrow on their children when discussing the subject. But letting children know they are not alone in their anxiety and fears is reassuring.
Once the subject is broached, take time to listen with your complete attention. Don't assume your child has no thoughts on the subject just because at a given moment he isn't interested in discussing it.
"The most beneficial approach we've found is to let the kids see that the parents care enough to take some action -- whether it is sitting down and writing a letter to their congressman, or going to a neighborhood nuclear-free zone meeting," says Macy. "When you do that, and you come home with papers and brochures and flyers that are around the house, it becomes a natural part of their life. It is reassuring to them that their parents care enough to do something to see that there'll be a future for them."