No matter how young or old your child is, I am sure that by now they’ve heard about a war going on in this world…
Many kids are asking about why people go to war, and are having varied reactions from anxiety, to anger and to helplessness.
Some parents have been shocked by their child’s reaction who are now saying ‘let’s bomb Putin’ or are talking about ‘killing them.’
Needless to say this can be quite unsettling which is why I’m reaching out to you today with some tips and ideas how to talk to your kids about the war in Ukraine.
Be Mindful of Your Own Energy and Words
Children are biologically wired to learn from their parents. Some of the most powerful ways of learning are modeling, imitation and social learning.
In one study, children were asked if they believed their parent versus a stranger who made a simple statement about a stuffed animal and its characteristics.
The parent gave an obvious lie while the stranger stated the truth. Guess whom the kids said was right? The parent! Even when they suspected that the parent had not given them the truth.
So don’t underestimate your influence on your child!
Be mindful of your own words, attitude and energy.
Regardless of your own strong feelings, it’s best to stay neutral with your child. If you need to vent or get some relief for your own fears and worries, reach out to a trusted friend for support.
Model to your child how you’d want them to cope with this situation. If you want to bring more peace into this world, it’s best to show understanding and compassion vs. anger, judgement, divisiveness and hate.
To nurture compassion, you may want to do this by helping your child understand that the people of Russia are not necessarily agreeing with what Mr. Putin is doing.
With older children 10 years and up, and especially teenagers, it would be ok to share and talk about anti-war demonstrations happening in Russia.
You can also highlight the tremendous world-wide support and uniting of nations who are coming together to aid people of Ukraine.
It’s a great opportunity to get curious and foster some critical thinking by inquiring from the child what they would do? What are their thoughts and feelings about the situation?
It’s always a good idea to start by asking what do they already know and what they have heard so you can correct any misinformation.
This is not a time to lecture or ‘correct’ any attitudes but to just be curious and provide a safe place for the child to express themselves.
Transform Powerlessness to Empowerment
War cane make us all feel powerless…
Children already have a tendency to feel powerless so news of war and unrest can easily add to this sense of powerlessness.
Yes, there is war and tragedy, AND there is also incredible effort by many countries to do what they can to support Ukraine.
This could lead to a discussion and a plan of action ‘what can we do as a family?’
Younger children may want to draw a card for the children and families in Ukraine, or perhaps they could choose some of their toys and stuffed animals to be donated.
Teenagers could get activated by writing letters to plead to world leaders, and organizations, or if you’re okay they could go to social media to create a campaign to support people of Ukraine in variety of ways.
The mechanisms for empowerment and support are endless! Just get creative and know that every small things counts.
Even if you just focus on creating kindness and peace among the people you and your child encounter every day, this already contributes to the collective sense of peace in this world.
It’s important to teach children this and make them feel like what they do with kind, friendly, helpful, and compassionate acts matter!
Cry It Out: Provide a Safe Place To Express Views, Opinions and Fears
It’s important to keep checking with your kids about what they think and how they’re feeling. This is not ‘one and done’ situation as the war is on-going and the event keeps shifting and changing.
You could even do a weekly ‘Breaking News Circle’ with your family where you’d check with them what they know and have a safe, open discussion.
This is a great opportunity to get an understanding where your kids are with their anxiety levels and to correct any misinformation they’ve heard.
While it is okay for older children to get more information and details about the war, it is important for you to monitor the information they’re exposed to and limit it as much as possible.
You could even get on the Internet with them to discover the latest news together.
Pre-school aged children should not be exposed to any news, and must be protected as well as possible.
It is likely, however, that they have heard about the war so you do get to explain it to them and define what war is.
You can use very generalized and simple explanation like this:
‘Sometimes countries don’t get along, and have disagreements they can’t solve with using their words. Even adults and world leaders have trouble being kind and using their words to solve their disagreements’
Pre-school aged children may not be able to express how they feel verbally so it would be great to invite them to draw their feelings. The best is, if you can do it together with them.
It’s important to validate how scared your child might feel while also offering reassurance that they’re safe.
Don’t forget to connect and validate first before reassurance as otherwise your child might feel their feelings don’t matter and they’d feel alone and misunderstood.
If your child is crying because they’re scared or just having increased dysregulation and tantrums, it’s important to let them cry it out while being very present to them.
Play It Out
The best way for children to process big feelings, traumas and release stress is playing!
The more stress your child has, the more they should play, especially with you!
Simply by increasing connected playtime with your child, you will buffer them against stress and provide an outlet for them to process and make sense of what’s happening in the world.
Non-directed child centered play is where you follow your child’s lead. This will help them process traumas and stressors in their own way.
You can also engage them in power reversals play and games where they get to be in change and feel powerful.
Rough and tumble play, chasing games, and tag are great ways to release some extra energy while creating connection.
If your child wants to play ‘war’, let them! It’s just their way of working through things.
I hope this article supports you in how to help your child not only cope but thrive even in times of a global crisis