The events of 2014 have stirred up a lot of emotions – from the National Day of Honour to mark the end of Canada’s military mission in Afghanistan, to the tragic deaths of Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent and Corporal Nathan Cirillo.
Talking with children about topics like this, especially in the context of Remembrance Day, can be a challenge, even for people who may know a lot about it. I am both a military historian and a serving military officer, so I tend to have a good grasp on events and their context. In spite of this, I still find it difficult at times to discuss with my daughters (ages 10 and 12) what is going on with regards to the military, and with regards to Remembrance Day.
Some of you may wonder why I’m even grappling with this – is it important to talk about an event that happened nearly a hundred years ago? Don't kids learn enough about this in school? While our children are exposed to elements of our history through what they learn in school, sometimes even the teachers themselves can have challenges knowing what is important, or how much time to spend teaching a lesson. When we were walking through several military museums this summer, my daughters were curious to know things about the airplanes, uniforms, and pictures they were looking at – but didn’t want the huge history lesson that I am prone to deliver. In their own way, they taught me what they wanted to learn - and I was still able to put it in context to historical events. As we go through these next few years, a great number of celebrations and commemorations will be taking place, and with them come opportunities for all of us to learn about our country and the contributions our ancestors made to shaping Canada and world events .
So how do you talk to your kids about Remembrance Day? Here are some of my thoughts:
1. Encourage your kids to ask questions. Remember that they may have little context on what Remembrance Day is, other than wearing little red flowers, two minutes of silence at school, and old men and women wearing medals laying green wreaths. For many of us, we can recall grandparents or great-uncles who served in The War – so we have some context of what it’s all about. For our kids, that connection just might not be there.
2. Use photos and items to make the event real. Children learn in many different ways, so use what you have at your disposal. That might be photographs, a cap badge, a button, or a medal of a relative. For younger children, giving them something tactile and explaining its importance can go further than any discussion.
3. Learn together as a family. If the discussion raises questions and you don’t know the answer, that’s okay – it’s a great opportunity for you and your child to learn more together. And rest assured you aren’t alone in this feeling. After 25 years as a military historian, I am always learning something new. There are many great sites out there for information, including Veterans Affairs Canada, the Canadian War Museum, and the Royal Canadian Legion which conducts annual poster, literary and video contests to allow children to show what Remembrance Day means to them.
There are also a great number of books available on war and remembrance that are suitable for children. I recommend checking the Canadian Children's Book Centre's lists for the First World War and the Second World War. They contain many excellent books for children of all ages.
Remembrance Day is a time for reflection, for learning, for sharing, so take the opportunity to learn more, and get answers to questions that you or your kids have wondered about. If you would like help looking for details on a family member, please contact me - firstname.lastname@example.org. I will warn you that this may be neither a quick nor an easy process. But the results – and the journey you take to get there – can be well worth sharing with your children and the rest of your family.
Steven Dieter CD MA FRSA is a military historian, serving military officer, and a volunteer with the Royal Canadian Legion at Branch, Zone and District levels. He has been recognized by the Minister of Veterans Affairs for his research on fallen Canadians while deployed to Jamaica.