The other night I curled up with my three-year-old in his bed and showed him a poppy.
Me: This is a poppy. It’s a special flower.
Ollie: A special flower?
Me: Yes. We wear poppies in November to help us remember.
Ollie: To help us remember? What Mommy?
I’ve thought very carefully about what I was going to say next, because he is only three, and the war is big and scary, and it was bedtime and I wanted him to sleep well.
But how do you explain the war and Remembrance Day to a child? It's not easy, but then, it probably shouldn't be.
Craig Sutton, over at CanadianNanny.ca has these suggestions when talking about Remembrance Day with little ones: keep it age appropriate, focus on honouring people (especially family members), and explain why we wear poppies.
Keep it Age Appropriate
This is the one that I struggled with the most. What counts as age-appropriate for a three-year-old? How do you find the balance between saying too little and too much? What exactly will he understand?
If you’re really struggling with how much to say and your child is in school, you could always find out what they talk about in their classrooms about Remembrance Day, or head over to the library to see what books there are for your child’s age. But ultimately, you are the one who knows your child, and you are the one who knows how much you are willing to say.
So do yourself a favour, and trust your instinct. As your child gets older you will always have another chance to explain the importance of Remembrance Day and poppies and taking the time to reflect on our past.
Focus on Honouring People (Especially Family Members)
One way to make Remembrance Day more tangible and understandable to your children is to focus on people they know and can connect to. Like their great-grandfathers who fought in the war, or their aunt who currently serves, or the neighbour down the street who is now retired.
As my boys grow they will learn about why their father is in the military, and what it means to him to serve. We’ll also talk about their Gumpo who used to be a Search and Rescue Technician. And, someday I’ll share the story about all of the “uncles” who popped up in the Netherlands during the war, like “Oom Tom” sent my grandmother’s family oranges when the war was over to thank them for taking him in.
Explain Why We Wear Poppies
This video by Poppy Scotland is a nice way to show your children why we wear poppies. I know the video does go on to talk about how the poppies in Scotland are created and distributed, but I don’t think that takes away from the explanation of why we wear poppies. Plus, I think it helps show that the poppy really is a special flower because it’s worn in remembrance in other places around the world too.
In the end I responded to my son’s question with this story:
“Along time ago, before you were born, and before Mommy was born, and before Mommy’s Mommy was born there was a war. Which means a lot of grownups were fighting one another, and a lot of people got hurt.
Then on November 11th, the war stopped—”
“And the sun came out? And people were friendly again!”
“—and then the sun came out and people were friendly again. We wear poppies, this red flower, to remember everyone who got hurt.”
I know it’s not the perfect explanation, but my son really liked the story. I know because he asked me to tell it to him six times in a row, and then, after the sixth time, he told me that when he’s big, he’s going to be one of the people who helps make the fighting stop.
If that happens, I will be as proud of him as I am of the rest of the people I know and love who have served and continue to do so.