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Explaining Violence and War to Children with Down Syndrome

W. Scott Westerman, III

Explaining complex and challenging topics like violence and war to children can be a daunting task for any parent. When it comes to children with Down syndrome, it’s essential to approach these discussions with care, sensitivity, and age-appropriate language. Parents often wonder how to navigate these conversations and provide a clear understanding without causing unnecessary distress. Let’s explore some basic strategies to help you navigate this topic with children who have Down syndrome, while taking their unique needs and characteristics into account.

Please note that this discussion and the included references are intended as an overview of approaches for discussing sensitive topics with children and individuals with Down syndrome. It is based on my own research as a parent and a grandparent of a child with Down syndrome. I am not a healthcare professional, nor a trained psychologist, but a fellow traveler hoping to inspire deeper research and discussion. It is essential to consult with professionals, such as developmental specialists, educators, or therapists, who are trained to help you tailor your approach to your child’s specific needs and abilities.

1. Start with the Basics

Begin by providing a straightforward explanation of violence and war, using simple and concrete terms that your child can grasp. Utilize visual aids, such as pictures, storybooks, or videos, to illustrate the concepts. Depending on the child’s age and cognitive abilities, it may be helpful to emphasize that violence and war are situations where people get hurt, buildings are damaged, and everyone is very sad.

2. Tailor Information to Their Level of Understanding

Children with Down syndrome often develop at their own pace. It’s crucial to adapt your explanations to their specific cognitive abilities. For younger children, focus on emphasizing safety and security, such as the role of parents and caregivers in keeping them safe. Older children might benefit from more in-depth discussions, provided in a simplified manner.

3. Encourage Questions

Create an open and accepting environment where your child feels comfortable asking questions. Children with Down syndrome, like all children, need reassurance and the opportunity to express their concerns. Be patient, and answer their questions honestly but age-appropriately. Remember, it’s okay not to have all the answers.

4. Address Feelings and Emotions

Children with Down syndrome may experience heightened emotions or struggle with emotional regulation. It’s crucial to help them understand and cope with the feelings of fear, sadness, or confusion that discussions about violence and war can evoke. Encourage your child to express their emotions through drawing, talking, or other activities.

5. Emphasize Safety and Support

Reassure your child that their safety and well-being are your most important priority. Help them understand how they have an important network of support, including family and friends who are there to help and protect them. Reinforce the idea that they can always turn to you, the professionals who work with them and trusted adults if they have concerns or questions.

Explaining violence and war to children with Down syndrome may present unique problems. It’s essential to provide age-appropriate information in a supportive and caring manner. Like many similar learning situations, these discussions can be ongoing and may require reinforcement over time. By fostering an open and empathetic environment, parents can help their children navigate difficult subjects while creating an atmosphere of comfort and security. As with all of our discussions about supporting a child with Down syndrome, this message only scratches the surface of a complex topic. We highly recommend that you will dig deeper and consult with your child’s support team of professionals to craft an approach that works best for the individual.


American Academy of Pediatrics. (2016). Talking to Children About Tragedies and Other News Events. Source

National Down Syndrome Society. (n.d.). Development & Behavior: Teaching Safety Skills. Source

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021). Communication & Down Syndrome. Source

National Down Syndrome Society. (n.d.). Behavior & Down Syndrome: A Practical Guide for Parents. Source

The Arc. (n.d.). Safety. Source