Raising Peace Builders

photo by Amy Hashimoto

The ongoing war in Ukraine and other conflicts around the world are heavy. Perhaps, as a caregiver or educator, you broached the subject in advance with the children in your life. Or maybe they surprised you with a question at the dinner table, in the car or at the park. For children, hearing about war may incite feelings of fear, and bring up big topics like violence and death.

Between war, climate change, a rapidly changing economy, and of course, the ongoing battle with Covid-!9, our world seems especially fraught right now. Maybe it’s always been that way and we had the luxury of being ignorant to current events in a way that children today don’t. Sometimes life can feel like a constant media stream; there’s so much content—-tv, social media, facebook, podcasts, news radio— and kids are undoubtedly catching more of what's happening in the world around them than ever before.  

This is a nuanced issue, and ultimately one that we have limited control over. What we do have control over is how we can support our children in processing what they’re being exposed to and how we can help guide them toward becoming peace builders. Here are a few ideas:

  • Ask children how what they are hearing and seeing makes them feel. 
  • There are so many benefits to doing this. Firstly, it gives children an opportunity for self-reflection, secondly, having an adult listen to and validate their feelings boosts their confidence, it grows the bond between the child and the adult, and it helps the child learn how to express themselves in a healthy and appropriate way. And finally, having an adult alongside to help them process can help them develop a perspective that is rooted in reality vs. fear. A child who has access to and an understanding of their own feelings is more likely to be able to understand the feelings of others.


  • Teach them how to listen.
  • So often, what we hear is clouded by our own preconceived notions and perspectives, what we like and what we don’t, our fears and beliefs. When we teach children how to listen attentively and clearly, and how to separate facts from emotions, we empower them to learn how to develop a more robust perspective. 

    There are two features in Ditto Kids Issue 3 that address this, albeit in different ways. There is a great activity called “Listening is Leadership” where children listen to each other’s verbal instructions in order to create something beautiful.

    The second is the essay “Sniffing Out Bias in the Media,” which does an amazing job of explaining media literacy, breaking down source reliability, and diving into unconscious bias. 

  • Engage their empathy muscle. 
  • You probably could have guessed that we were leading up empathy, but it really is such a crucial skill for peacebuilders. A peacebuilder has to be able to hear and connect with all people involved in conflict, and to never lose sight of their humanity. And we believe that the best way to do that is through empathizing with them. When children (and adults) are able to put themselves in someone else’s shoes, they are both able to have compassion for that person and  sometimes creatively problem-solve around that person’s blindspots.   

    You can’t really teach a person empathy, regardless of how old they are, but you can model it for them. You can treat them with it. And you can teach them how to be curious about other people, which is a great place to start.