The past couple of years have been a troubling time for everyone—including our children. Between the pandemic, escalating political tension, and the current war in Ukraine, it’s easy for children (and adults!) to fear what is going on and they may have questions. As an adult, it may be easier to handle troubling news or world events, as we are often able to block it out more, or have more control over what we see or what we want to see. For children, however, especially in their crucial developmental stages, they may have trouble discerning what is truly going on, and they may fear the danger of world events and figuring out what may be true about what is happening and what might not be.
Talking to your children in times of war and trouble and uncertainty can be difficult to do. Children often look up to their parents for security, safety and protection from the outside world, but how do you talk to them when you may be concerned or worried yourself? How do you bring up the topic or answer your child’s most pressing questions about current events? Keep reading below for some tips.
1. Find out what your children are feeling and what they know, or think they know, to be true of war and uncertain times. Bringing up the conversation naturally where your child feels free to talk and say what they are thinking and feeling, such as at dinner time. Try to avoid these discussions before bed time, as they may cause your child more anxiety and fear, negatively impacting their sleep. Check on your children often and reassure them and potentially correct any inaccurate information they may have come across, whether by watching tv, browsing social media, or walking past a news stand laced with disturbing or scary images on the covers.
2. Keep yourself calm, and tell them the reality of the world, using age-appropriate terms and explanations so they have the chance to understand what is happening to the best of their ability. Children have the right to know what is going on, but adults have the additional responsibility to keep their children as safe as possible from distress. Keep in mind that children take emotional and social cues from adults, so gather your own thoughts and feelings and remain as calm as possible before talking with them. Try to remain objective, and don’t overshadow their own fears with yours.
3. Whenever possible, reassure your child that they are safe from immediate danger and remind them that there are many people working to find solutions to try and stop the conflict and restore peace.
4. Be compassionate. Unfortunately, conflict often brings with it prejudice and discrimination, whether against another person or people, or towards a particular country. When discussing these troubling times with your child, try to avoid labels like “bad people,” “evil people, “and try instead to use it as an opportunity to encourage compassion, for example, get them involved in age-appropriate activities or volunteer opportunities so they feel like they can contribute positively to an inherently negative, sad, and stressful thing. Setting up a donation, food or clothing drive may be a good place to start, or show them when you donate money to a cause important to you. Even if conflict is happening in a distant country, it can fuel discrimination and hate crimes at home. Express kindness and ensure your children aren’t bullying others or becoming victims of bullies themselves.
5. Focus on those who are trying to help put an end to senseless violence and war. Go out of your way to try and find a feel-good story about how someone is helping, or find an organization contributing to help end war or another troublesome crisis. If feasible, get your children involved in some way—see if they want to draw a picture, write a poem, join a petition, march, or see if they would like to participate in a fundraiser. Sometimes the sense of doing something, no matter how small, can often bring great comfort knowing that they are doing what they can to help situations so often out of our control.
6. Continue to check in with your child and see how they are doing. After answering some of their questions, try to end the conversation carefully and touch on everything you have the answers to or if you don’t—gently tell them you will try to find out for them.
For more information on how to have these difficult conversations, click here.
For additional resources and tips, click here.