6 Ways to Teach Your Kids about Veterans Day

Military holidays can be tough when it comes to kids. Thematically, Veterans Day and Memorial Day and other significant days in history like Pearl Harbor Day — aren’t exactly family-friendly. They can prompt questions about war and death and politics — and these holidays are inherently emotional, heavy, and complex. But — like nearly any topic — there are kid-appropriate ways to introduce these holidays at different ages, and as Americans it’s important that we embrace them.

I was raised in a military family, but am myself a civilian. I’m married to a civilian and we have a (so far!) civilian son. The ways I learned about things like Veterans Day were a seamless part of my childhood, and for the early years of my son’s life I didn’t put intention behind my plans to teach him about them. As he gets older, we are learning to give him the right dose at the right time. Here are six ideas to get you started with your own kiddos:

 1. Give them the facts. {Many adults can use this refresher, too!}
  • Veterans Day is observed on November 11th each year.
    • Major hostilities of World War I were formally ended at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, and the US joined other involved nations in observing Armistice Day on November 11th each year. The US holiday was renamed Veterans Day in 1954.
  • Veterans Day is not Memorial Day.
    • Memorial Day honors those who died while in military service, and is observed in May.
    • Veterans Day celebrates the service of all US military veterans. It is largely intended to thank living veterans for their service and to underscore the fact that all those who served – not only those who died – have sacrificed and done their duty.
  • The correct spelling is Veterans Day. No apostrophe. Yes, grammarians, ‘Veteran’s Day’ and even ‘Veterans’ Day’ are both grammatically correct, but according to the United States Department of Veterans Affairs, it is Veterans Day “because it is not a day that ‘belongs‘ to veterans, it is a day for honoring all veterans.”
 2. Put a name with a face.

Introduce kids to a real, live veteran. They (and you) may picture veterans as soldiers in uniform — and, of course, they certainly can be — but try introducing them to a veteran who no longer wears a uniform. Meet a retired vet or a veteran who has since moved on to another career. This can be a terrific way to start the conversation and introduce the concept of veterans to kids who haven’t grown up in a military family or around people in uniform. If you don’t think you know a veteran, ask around. Or call me — one of my parents would FaceTime with your kids in a heartbeat. Ha!

 3. SHOW them. Actions speak louder than words.

Take them with you to vote — and talk about it. Say ‘thank you’ when you see folks in uniform. If the VFW or the American Legion is outside Walmart offering yellow ribbons (or poppies on Memorial Day), encourage your kids to shake their hands and accept one and make a donation if you’re able. If you’re a parent, you know your kids watch and learn from you. Make good citizenship and honoring our nation’s veterans something they grow up seeing in their own family.

Point out things they may already do and see. Do your kids say the Pledge of Allegiance each day at school? Do they see others around them place a hand over their hearts during the Star Spangled Banner at sporting events? Remind kids of these things already in their lives, and remind them these can be everyday ways to show our patriotism and citizenship.

3b. Remember that veterans protect the good, the bad, and the ugly.

“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” — Evelyn Beatrice Hall

The actions we take on behalf of our freedoms as Americans — are a lesson all their own. In the last week, there’s been a lot of talk in our local news and on social media about free speech and its intersection with what I just called “everyday ways to show our patriotism and citizenship”. Depending on the age of your kids, this can be a powerful conversation. The First Amendment is listed first in the Bill of Rights by design. It’s important and precious and to be protected. We have veterans to thank for historically protecting our rights – and perhaps most preciously, our First Amendment. {Fair warning: This is a tricky one. For kids AND adults. But we shouldn’t let trickiness overshadow the importance of this lesson.}

 4. Attend a Veterans Day event in your area.

Setting aside a few hours on November 11th to honor veterans with your friends and community is perfect for kids. They are conditioned to do special things on special days for special reasons, and this will automatically elevate the meaning of Veterans Day for them. If there is a military post in or near your town, you’ll likely have more options — but I’ll bet you would be surprised what is planned for your area this Veterans Day. Many communities have parades, 5Ks and Fun Runs, and other ceremonies to celebrate veterans. It’s a few weeks later, but you can make plans to participate in Wreaths Across America in your area in December. The mission of Wreaths Across America is Remember. Honor. Teach. and the organization aims to honor all fallen veterans during the holiday season.

 5. Read a book.

This is a classic move at our house — we head to the library when we’re traveling somewhere new or when he asks me a question I don’t trust to Siri. Whether you have a preschooler or a teenager, there are books out there appropriate for Veterans Day and beyond. “H is for Honor: A Military Family Alphabet” is an excellent place to start.

 6. Don’t scare them. And don’t misrepresent veterans as Superman.

I know, I know… I snuck in two ‘What NOT to do’s.

  • Don’t overdo it. Every kid is different. You know your kids and you’ll know what they’re ready to hear. It’s important to introduce topics of citizenship, patriotism, service, and sacrifice to children, but don’t overdo it with information beyond their maturity. Older kids may be ready to ask questions about topics like PTSD, selective service, and the political context of it all — but it can get overwhelming FAST. Start slow, and be ready for questions.
  • Don’t lose sight of reality. Heroes, yes. SUPERheroes, no. Please do a favor for veterans everywhere and remind your kids they’re all only human. Our veterans do amazing, selfless, admirable things — but they aren’t superheroes. They have human weaknesses and emotions and often those amazing, selfless, admirable things wear them down. I’ve never met a veteran who didn’t want a hug — on Veterans Day or otherwise.

 

As a parent myself, I now see my childhood through a whole new filter. I grew up in a military family (Mom AND Dad) and many of our closest family friends also served. It was a natural part of my life, and I risked taking it all for granted when I had my own child. I’m certainly still learning — as any honest parent will tell you about navigating any tricky topic — but I am committed to raising my “civilian” child with a solid foundation of understanding and respect for those who serve our country. These are a few of the ways we do that in our house — and I’d love to hear yours. Comment or message me with additions and ideas. And Happy Veterans Day!

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8 thoughts on “6 Ways to Teach Your Kids about Veterans Day

  1. Well done, and great advice. :)

    1. Thanks. You’ll always be one of my favorite veterans :)

  2. Well said, as always. I grew up a military child and now I’m raising two military children. We will be spending the day in DC on a social studies field trip and I will keep your words close as questions are asked.

    1. Thanks, lady. It really does get harder than I thought the longer I live in a more or less civilian town and in a civilian family. Even with all my/our ties to the military. I know it’s gotta feel so out-of-sight-out-of-mind for people. I hope this helps.

      And I’m super jealous that you’ll be in DC for Veterans Day!

  3. Love your writing and your common sense. Colt is getting so big! Thank you for all you do to educate kids and adults. I so enjoy your mom and dad. They are amazing people and you certainly take after them. Hope to meet you one day. Ocia

    1. Thank you so much! There is no higher praise than that when it comes to sharing the stories of veterans and Gold Star Families. My parents are pretty special people. Thanks, Ocia.

  4. You are an amazing writer. I was raised by a dad who was in the Marine Corp. who did all the right things for us to be patriotic. I tried to do the same. It must have worked, my Grandchildren respect veterans, the flag, Memorial and Veterans Day. Thanks for posting this.

    1. Thanks so much, Vivian. It’s a journey, to be sure. Every year he is a little older and can understand a little more.

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