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A Father Deals With Children’s Fears

January 21, 1991


NEW YORK (AP) _ A few days into what is hopefully the war of his lifetime I finally get the chance to talk about it with my boy.

We’re in suburban New Jersey and I’ve just awoken. It’s 7 p.m. and work awaits in New York with a team reporting this war of laser-guided bombs. The work is demanding. There hasn’t been much time for the kids.

On television, father and son watch images provided by the Department of Defense of a high-tech attack: silent infrared video of a missile bunker and command post blown inside out by precision bombing.

This is riveting stuff for an adult.

″Awesome,″ my 7-year-old boy says.

This war video may be sanitized, but war is scary.

″What will we save?″ my nearly 4-year-old daughter asked the week before we went to war.Her father was watching somber, stirring congressional debate and had made the mistake of telling her ″we″ might be going to war.

He has to explain that the war would be fought far away, across the ocean.

Children confronted with the uncertainties of war are prone to nightmares and sadness, have trouble concentrating and fear that somehow they will lose their parents. Psychiatrists say that’s why it’s important we talk about war with our children, that we bring it up if they don’t.

Fred Rogers, public television’s toddler confidant, comes on the tube and tells the kids war is something that adults do sometimes and it’s not something children need to worry about.

But my son understands that people are dying. I tell him that kids like himself in Baghdad must take shelter and hope for the best.

″Wouldn’t it be neat if war was just like ‘The Turtles (Teen-age Mutant Ninja)’, with nobody getting hurt in the end,″ he says. The weapons those jump-kicking cartoon chracters hurl merely stun.

My wife has been helping out with our 5-year-old daughter’s kindergarten class. The teacher, Mrs. Davidman, was worried. She had had to again discuss the war with the children.

″I hadn’t planned to, but a child asked me, ’Aren’t we going to talk about the war?‴ Mrs Davidman tells me.

Allie Bitterman and another child in the class have family in Israel, where Iraqi missiles have fallen.

″Al-lie Bit-ter-man,″ my daughter sings.

Mrs. Davidman sends home a note with the kids at the end of every week. This week, the class had a moment of silence as all ″hoped for peace. Many of the children are more aware than we might expect 5-6 year-olds to be.″

I bring home from work for the children a stunning wire picture of a Tomahawk cruise missile lifting in fire, programmed for Iraq, from the crowded nighttime deck of the USS Wisconsin. A second photo is of a pair of Scud-type missiles standing proudly before waving flags of the Tigris and Euphrates.

I had already told my son about the modified Scuds. They can travel as much as 550 miles from Iraq, I say.

″Could they reach here?″ he asks. I explain the greatness of distance. I tell him about intercontinental ballistic missiles. Thankfully, Iraq doesn’t have them.

We’re driving to the department store and he asks who has these missiles that can travel thousands of miles. I recite a short history of the Cold War, and explain how we and the Russians finally decided it was madness not to be friends.

He is somewhat comforted, but wants to be sure: Will the Russians always be our friends?

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