Veterans Day has always held special meaning to me. My great grandfathers served in the Army, my grandfather served in the Air Force, and my husband served in the Marines.
When we lived in San Diego, I worked for a military school that hosted a huge Veterans Day community event each year. We had amazing speakers come to address the crowd, ranging from World War II veterans to young soldiers who had served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Their messages were always incredibly moving and inspiring for our high school-aged students and adult community members.
But now, I have a two year old daughter. And obviously, different messaging is required. I want her to understand the importance of service, but don’t want to overload her with ideas she’s not quite ready for. So, I spoke with my husband and some other veterans and educators, and we came up with some strategies for talking to kids about Veterans Day.
First, Explain what a Veteran Is
The first step in covering Veterans Day with your child is obvious – explain what a veteran is.
By definition, a veteran is a person who has served in any branch of the military for any amount of time.
On the most basic, kid-friendly level, a veteran is someone who has worked to keep us safe. If your child is a little bit older and has learned simple civics and history lessons, you can explain that veterans have worked to protect our basic American rights-freedom of speech, religion, etc.
As a side note, this can be a good opportunity to explain the different branches of the military to your children. For example, many Air Force veterans flew airplanes, and many Navy veterans spent time on ships. This can help give them a visual and greater understanding.
And now, back to defining veterans for our kids!
No matter your political leanings, we can all agree on qualities that veterans share, like bravery, honor, and selflessness. You can help explain these characteristics by comparing them to your child (“You were so brave when you went to the doctor and got your flu shot.”), or characters they admire (“The dogs on Paw Patrol are selfless when they help the other animals in their community”).
Once you’ve explained what a veteran is, share who a veteran is. Chances are, your child knows one – a family member, a friend’s parent, a neighbor, etc. Giving a face to the concept can really help!
Explain Veterans Day is an Opportunity to Thank our Veterans
Now that your child understands what a veteran is, you can explain the purpose of Veterans Day – a special day to honor and thank our veterans for their service.
Talking to your kids about Veterans Day is great, but I’ve found that hands-on activities often work best with children. So, coming up with an activity to help them thank a veteran can be a great way to show them what Veterans Day is all about.
Here are some ideas.
Write a Thank You Letter
Have your child write a thank you letter or draw a picture for a veteran. A Million Thanks, a non-profit that has collected over 9 million letters for active duty military and veterans, is a great resource for this.
You can send your child’s letter directly to the organization, and they’ll send it off to a veteran.
Here’s the address:
A Million Thanks
17853 Santiago Blvd, #107-355
Villa Park, CA 92861
Please note, A Million Thanks does NOT send letters to specific veterans or active duty personnel, so the letters should be addressed generically (“Dear Hero” or “Dear Veteran”).
Send a Care Package
I loved putting care packages together for my husband and his Marines while he was deployed, and it is also a great activity to do with your kids!
Here are some items your child can put in a package to send to troops overseas:
- Powdered drink mixes – hot chocolate, Gatorade, etc.
- Granola or energy bars
- Jerky or summer sausage
- Condiments (anything but mayonnaise) – hot sauce is a favorite!
- Non-chocolate candy – chocolate can melt en route and make a huge mess
- Baby wipes – showers aren’t always available, so wipes come in handy
- Toiletries – shaving cream and razors, toothpaste and a toothbrush, lip balm, sunscreen
- First aid – cough drops, pain relief cream
- Magazines and books
Have your child pick some of his or her favorite items, and put those in the care package with a note for the soldiers.
Really want the idea of selflessness to hit home? Consider asking your child to donate some of their Halloween candy. This can feel like a big sacrifice for kids!
While these packages will go to active duty military instead of veterans, veterans would be appreciative that our troops overseas are being taken care of.
Spend the Day with a Veteran
One of my favorite ways a child can connect with a veteran is by actually spending time with one. This time spent together can be so meaningful and will definitely be a special memory for both your child and the vet.
Encourage Your Child to Serve Your Community
Teach your child the concept of service by helping them serve in your own community.
Perhaps you’re already involved with a local organization, and you can bring your child along next time you volunteer. Or, maybe your child is an animal lover. You can find a local shelter where they can donate time or allowance.
No matter how you choose to help them serve, emphasize the impact their actions are having on others. It can be so powerful for kids to see their actions have positive consequences, and knowing their service is impacting others will give them a huge sense of pride.
It will also illustrate to them that there are many different definitions of service. Military service is (obviously) not for everyone, and that’s okay! There are so many other ways we can help each other, our communities, and our country as a whole. And the sooner we can start our kids on the path to service, the better of we’ll all be.