07/15/2013 02:39 pm ET Updated Sep 14, 2013

Talking With Our Children About War

We checked in for our flight to a recent summer family vacation a bit early. I have found that when air traveling with kids having plenty of time minimizes much of the hassle of traveling with the family. After checking in our bags, we walked around BWI to kill some time before our flight. We headed to the international arrival area to see if any flights were coming in carrying our brave men and women serving in our armed forces overseas. The Baltimore area USO and various other local organizations arrange a special home coming for these soldiers, and my wife and I wanted to expose our children to the patriotism of the sight.

We were in luck. A group of family members and a random mix of strangers were congregating in the area with American flags and care packages awaiting the arrival of a flight from Afghanistan via Germany. The entire area was decorated with posters and signs welcoming our heroes. A local Girl Scouts troop was waiting patiently with boxes of cookies. We waited with everyone and as the men and women began exiting we joined the crowd in applause and chanting USA. Truly a special moment!

After a few minutes my eight-year-old son turned to me and asked "where are they coming home from?" I answered that they were coming home from the war in Afghanistan. Surprised he continued "so there is a war right now happening there?" I said, "yes." "So some American soldiers died in this war?" he asked innocently. I painfully responded in the affirmative. After a moment of contemplation my son said "it must be very hard for the mothers of those dead soldiers that they are not coming home".

My instinctual reaction was to try and focus on the positive and say something to the effect of "yes, but look at that girl giving the soldiers free cookies." However, I decided to allow my son to experience the real world with the highs and the lows of the reality we find ourselves in. As I unfortunately often do, I respond to my children based on what the latest psychological research seems to suggest is the optimal way of raising a healthy child. Allowing my son to experience negative emotions helps build his emotional intelligence; at least that is what I read in peer-reviewed journals.

So instead of distracting my son from the pain of the realities of war I decided to be with him and support him in his moment of agony. I responded with "yes, it is very sad for those mothers and fathers that their sons or daughters are not coming home alive like the soldiers you see here." As tears wallowed in his big blue eyes I put my hand on his shoulder and stood there with him in silence. As the next group of soldiers walked out the doors to the waiting area we both raised our hands in cheer and chanted USA with the crowd.

Life is about pain, sorrow, laughter, and fun. Allowing our children to experience the full range of emotions serves as an important developmental process as they gain emotional intelligence and learn about the realities of life.