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How to explain Veterans Day to your kids

Rachel Murphy
Nov. 4, 2019

For kids, especially the young ones, Veterans Day might not seem like much more than a day off from school. And, if your kids are anything like my 4-year-old, they have little to no awareness of the important role that veterans play in our everyday lives. This time of year, therefore, presents parents with the perfect opportunity to teach our smallest citizens about the significance of such a holiday like Veterans Day.

When I felt that my daughter was at the right age to begin learning about the sacrifice and courage of our military men and women, I put together a list of questions to help her understand who they are and why it's important to honor them. Hopefully, these questions and answers can help you as you broach the subject with your kiddos.

Who is a veteran?

Answering this question is important because it helps kids understand the honorees behind the holiday. A veteran is a former member of the armed services or military. Branches of the military include the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and Coast Guard, and veterans may have served during times of war or peace.

Perhaps a member of your family is currently serving in the military. Or maybe a grandfather, aunt or distant cousin is retired from the armed forces. To get the conversation started, try to find a picture of them in uniform and explain the importance of their job to your kid.

If you know anyone who’s a veteran, consider asking them to set up a time to chat with your child. They might be willing to show them their service memorabilia, photos or stories or even wear their uniform to help your child better understand the concept of what it means to serve.

Remember, veterans aren’t just friends and family; they’re everywhere! They don’t always wear uniforms or talk about their service, but that makes it all the more important to acknowledge them and the sacrifices they made, whether on Veterans Day or any other day.

What is Veterans Day?

Veterans Day is a U.S. federal holiday that honors American veterans of all wars — whether or not they currently serve — and gives us the opportunity to show our gratitude for the sacrifices they made to protect our freedoms. Your kids might’ve noticed that Veterans Day lands on the same day every year: November 11th. That’s because it actually started out as another holiday, known as “Armistice Day.”

Armistice Day commemorated the day in 1918, when Germany and the Allied nations signed a temporary truce that became the symbolic, yet unofficial, end of World War I. (The official end of the war came about with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles in 1919.) According to the History Channel, the truce (or “armistice”) was signed “on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.” For this reason, Armistice Day was observed by many countries on or close to November 11th. In fact, this day was so important that the U.S. government declared it a legal federal holiday in 1938, “dedicated to the cause of world peace and to be hereafter celebrated and known as ‘Armistice Day.’” In addition to its focus on peace and goodwill, it was also meant to be a day of gratitude for the sacrifices made by the veterans of that war.

In 1954, the U.S. government legally changed the name of Armistice Day to “Veterans Day,” in an effort to honor the veterans of all wars (including those of World War II and the Korean War), and not just those of World War I.

What’s the difference between Veterans Day and Memorial Day?

Many people confuse Veterans Day and Memorial Day, but it’s an important distinction to keep in mind.

According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, “Memorial Day is a day for remembering and honoring military personnel who died in the service of their country, particularly those who died in battle or as a result of wounds sustained in battle.

"While those who died are also remembered, Veterans Day is the day set aside to thank and honor all those who served honorably in the military — in wartime or peacetime.”

6 ways to teach your child about Veterans Day

In addition to looking at pictures and talking to a veteran (if possible), your little one might find that hands-on activities help them better understand the meaning behind Veterans Day and the importance of honoring our country’s veterans. Here are several options to consider:

1. Attend a Veterans Day parade: Oftentimes, communities host a parade to celebrate and honor members of the military. Check your local city or town’s event guide to see if there’s one scheduled where you live.

2. Read a book: Books on a variety of topics related to Veterans Day, military families and soldiers are available for all ages. Visit the local public library or a nearby bookstore with your child and pick out a few books that they find interesting.

3. Raise money: Find veteran organizations near you, start a neighborhood lemonade stand or other fundraiser and donate the money to a local veterans group. This is a great way to help your child take action to support our veterans.

4. Talk about freedom: What freedoms do you enjoy? Discuss these with your child to help make them aware of the everyday liberties they have thanks to veterans.

5. Talk about sacrifice: Members of our military often go long periods of time away from loved ones and sometimes even miss important holidays and birthdays with their families to fight for our freedom.

6. Say 'thank you': If you and your child are out in public and see a man or woman in uniform, let your child know that it’s a nice gesture to say 'thank you.' Those two simple words can mean a lot to a service member. If you're at a coffee shop or a restaurant and feeling generous, you might also consider paying for their cup of coffee or meal. 

Looking for more ideas? Here are several Veterans Day activities for kids.

Most important of all, listen when your child wants to talk about Veterans Day or what it means to be a veteran. While they may be young, their emotional intelligence is high. Using kid-friendly, age-appropriate language and activities to teach them about respecting and honoring our veterans — and appreciating the freedoms we enjoy as Americans — will go a long way toward instilling a sense of patriotism and empathy. 

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