How do you talk to your children about war?
When Russia invaded Ukraine a couple of months ago, news of the war was everywhere. Perhaps you or your kids have felt overwhelmed or uneasy at all the reports and very graphic pictures of the atrocities.
How much should parents shield their kids from the realities of war? How can they reassure their kids in the midst of the bad news? Here are some things to consider as you talk to your kids about the conflict.
Be Mindful of the Here and Now
Dr. Patrick Friman, Psychologist and Director of the Boys Town Center for Behavioral Health, explains the difference between focusing on here and focusing on there: If they’re getting into the wrong headspace, they can always revert back to here and now, which is the essence of what’s called mindfulness. The value of mindfulness is focusing on what’s happening right now, as opposed to what may happen in the future or what happened in the past. That’s not to say we shouldn’t think about those things; it’s just that when they trouble us, we can always come back to here and now, and there’s safe space there. We can get our mind in a good position, in a good frame, and then look out at our world from there.
When my kids start to worry about “what ifs,” I tell them to focus on “what is” instead. You can do that with your children because their fears of the war are probably centered around “what if that happens here?”.
Kids Don’t Need to Know All The Facts
Are children better off knowing about global crises? Honestly, when they are young, especially elementary school, they should be concerned with home, chores, friends, sports, etc. Parents should want their young children concerned with their immediate world and not so worried about places they can’t even identify on a map. Use age-appropriate language, notice their reactions, and be sensitive to their anxiety.
If they (kids) are badgering their parents for an explanation, I would keep two things in mind, explains Friman. One is they don’t understand language in the same way that you and I do. So, you need to keep the language very, very simple and there should be very little of it. Whenever you’re delivering an important message to a child, you want to make sure it’s very understandable. So I recommend one or two words for every year they’ve been alive and then onto a new topic.
So, the first thing parents want to do is use simple language and not very much of it. The second thing is it’s fairly easy to get a kiddo to think about something else, especially if it’s delightful or fun or tastes good. So, you take their question seriously, answer it simply and divert their attention to something that you know they’ll like to think about or like to do. And you can be in and out fairly quickly.
If Your Child Doesn’t Ask, Don’t Introduce It
Your child doesn’t need to be told of all the dangers in our world. When they come up in conversation or your child asks questions, then answer them. Or perhaps you know that your child heard something at school or from the TV, then let the know that you are there if they have quetions. If your child is unaware and happy, there’s no need to introduce fears to them by informing them of all the dangers of war.
It is normal for you to feel upset about what is happening, in Ukraine for instance. But remember that kids follow your emotional cues, so don’t express your fears too much with your child. Speak calmly and be aware of what you are conveying to your child.
Pay Attention to the People That Are Helping
It’s important for children to know that there are people who are helping others. Look for stories about folks who are doing good in the midst of a scary situation. First responders, soldiers, and ordinary people just looking to help others.
Look for opportunities for you and your child to participate in helping. Perhaps participate in a local fundraiser to help refugees. Doing something to help, no matter how small, can bring comfort.
If you are struggling with fears about world news and war yourself, then there’s a good chance that your kids will pick up on that. Parents, find someone to talk to, someone who will help you handle your own anxieties so that you do not pass fear on to your kids.
If you’d like to talk with me about dealing with your own anxieties as a parent, please schedule a free intro consultation here.