When the Vietnam War ended in 1973, you weren't born yet. So you don't recall how the bells at the National Cathedral rang and rang to celebrate peace. But if your parents were in Washington that day, they probably remember.
One day -- and we hope it comes soon -- people all over the world will be celebrating the declaration of peace in the Middle East. But that time isn't here yet. Right now, we have to live with the war with Iraq each day. It's difficult for everybody, especially kids.
One of the toughest things about being young is that you don't have a whole lot of control over things. Nobody asked you if the U.S. should start fighting with Iraq. Nobody asked you how you felt about having a friend, a brother or sister, an uncle or aunt or your mother or father go off to Saudi Arabia. It just happened.
Psychologists know that people who feel out of control are often angry about it. Have you felt angry about the war? If you have, that's a normal, healthy way to respond. Many grown-ups feel the same way. It's also normal to be frightened by the war. War is scary -- even if it is being fought far away.
Being scared is a normal, natural reaction; even adults have fears about the war. They fear losing people they love; they fear the changes that a war in the Middle East may bring to the United States. And, like you, they fear getting hurt.
For kids, there is one more bad fear that the war brings up. You may have felt it, or your little brothers and sisters may have felt it. It's the fear that for some reason the war will break up your family, and you will be left alone.
If you feel angry, confused and scared about the war, talk it over with your mom or dad or another trusted grown-up. That's what Karen did.
A few days after the war started, Karen woke up crying. She had had a bad dream. In the dream, bombs were falling on her school in Silver Spring. It was very loud; there was nowhere to hide. And she couldn't find her mom and dad.
Karen went to her parents' room and woke them up. "I'm scared," she said. "I hate the war!"
"I'm scared too, sometimes," Karen's mother said. "Especially here in Washington, we hear a lot about the war and about terrorism. It's normal to be scared. But I remind myself that there is good security, and that many people are working hard to keep us safe.
"But no matter what happens, Karen, we will take care of you. That's our job as your mom and dad. And it's the most important job we have. You can depend on us to keep you safe."
Karen felt better. And when she thought about it, she realized that her elementary school in Silver Spring wasn't likely to be attacked. She felt a little silly for worrying.
"It's not silly," her mom said. "During a war, there's a lot of uncertainty. But adults will always look after children and protect them."
Other things you can do to cope with confusing feelings about the war include: Get some exercise. Ride a bike, play ball or just take a long walk. Getting outside and doing something physical will make you feel better.Learn more about the world. Get a globe or an atlas. When you hear news reports, locate the places mentioned on the map. Or read books about the region, such as "Iraq in Pictures" and "An Arab Family" by Roderic Dutton.Support a friend who is feeling scared or lonely. Do you know someone at school who has a relative in the Gulf? Give them a call to see how they're doing. Ask them over for a meal, or take them out to the movies. Let them know that you care about how they're feeling.Keep a journal. Write down your feelings and questions and ideas about what is happening in the war. Your journal can be private, or you can share it with your family or teacher.Ask questions. Don't be afraid to ask adults questions about the war. Things we understand are much less scary than things we imagine.Turn off the TV. It's important to be informed about what's going on, but you don't need to pay attention to it every minute. Even the President takes breaks from war news. So should you and your family.Help people who have been hurt by the war. Make a special bank in which you save change or baby-sitting money to donate to relief agencies, such as UNICEF or the Red Cross. Your parents can help you decide. Or there may be collection efforts at your church or synagogue.If you feel panicky, have trouble sleeping or getting your homework done, or if you are in lots of fights at school, tell someone you trust that you are having a hard time. War is very, very stressful, and some kids may need extra help to cope with their feelings about it. There's absolutely nothing wrong with that. Help is available, and adults will know where to find it.
Tips for Parents
T. Berry Brazelton, Harvard University pediatrician and author, advises parents to be open about their feelings during this difficult time. "I think we're all stressed," he says. "To try to hide it makes it a secret, and that's not good. When parents and kids share things, it's more possible to work them out." Brazelton says that kids' primary fear is the question: Am I going to be deserted? "Anxieties need to be shared at the family level," he says. He adds that the war offers parents an opportunity to talk about values and religious beliefs that the family can turn to for comfort and support.
Catherine O'Neill is a children's writer.