The media is currently awash with distressing images of war and destruction. Shielding children from these images is difficult, sadly they will usually see and hear about it somewhere.  This may affect their behaviour and raise questions. It is important not to dismiss their questions as this can make children feel more worried and unsupported. So, how best can we help our children make sense of events and deal with their emotions?

 Top Tips

  • Work out your own feelings so that you can respond calmly to children’s questions
  • Find time to talk
  • Find out what children know and how they are feeling
  • Be reassuring
  • Keep the information factual, simple and age appropriate
  • Limit access to news
  • Focus on how people help each other in bad situations
  • Ensure your responses don’t stigmatise whole groups of people
  • Close conversations carefully so that children are not left upset
  • Check back in occasionally to see how they are coping

 Want to know more?

 Take care of yourself and your own feelings

Children quickly pick up on adult feelings. If you are feeling shocked or anxious about what is happening, children will sense this. They look towards their closest adults to help them feel safe and enable them to make better sense of the world. As adults we too need to develop a sense of perspective about what is going on, so that we can give children the reassurance they need. 

It is good to acknowledge your own feelings about what is happening as it validates what children may also be feeling; how you express those feelings is important. Respond calmly e.g. “Yes, it makes me feel sad too when I see families having to leave their homes”. It helps children to see that they can have these feelings without being overwhelmed by them.  However, try not to overshare your own worries e.g. “I don’t know what I would do if our house was bombed”. Whilst this may be a genuine fear for you, it would not help your child to know this. They need to feel that you will be in control and be working for their interests.

If you are feeling upset about the situation, find other adults to talk to. This will help you to work through your own feelings; be careful to do this when children are not around. Children can overhear phone conversations but may not hear the sensible advice coming from the person on the other end of the phone. If you realise it is making you anxious, then limit your own news and social media consumption. Make sure you get your information from reputable sources and don’t let it dominate your thoughts. We can’t control what happens out in the wider world but we can control our reactions to it. Where ever possible, find things to do that make you feel happy. 

 Find out what children know and how this is making them feel

Each child is different. Some children may home in on information about the war, whilst other children may be oblivious to it.  Some children may be visibly upset by things they hear or see and others may have no obvious emotional response.  It is important to take into account the stage and age of your child.  Also ask questions about what they have already seen or heard and gauge their level of sensitivity to the information.  Young children sometimes find it hard to distinguish between their own reality and what they see on television. They often don’t understand the concept of “another country” and distance.

Some children are curious and ask lots of questions and others can easily zone out. It is a learning moment to talk about conflict in the world but there may be a limit to what they want to know and how they want to hear it.  You will need to judge this carefully, keep it simple.  Avoid graphic descriptions and stick to basic facts.  If you don’t know the answer to their questions, say you will try to find out a bit more for them.  It may prey on their mind if you leave something unresolved.

The BBC have a “Newsround” programme which aims to give news in an appropriate way for children.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/newsround#more-stories-2

 Time to talk

If children want to talk, make time for this to happen, even if you are doing something else.  It is an important topic and may be causing them real concern. Equally they may not initiate a conversation but you may detect from their behaviour that they are upset.  Use the times when you naturally have conversations e.g: at the dinner table; walking from nursery or school; during play.

Avoid having conversations about upsetting subjects before bed as this could lead to children having bad dreams or disturbed sleep. Better to share a favourite book or lullaby at bedtime and stick to routines which children find comforting.

You may find that children act out scenes in their play or begin to draw pictures that illustrate what they have seen.  This isn’t bad, it is simply how children process information. Drawing and play is often a good time to talk to children about things that may be worrying them.

Make sure you finish conversations carefully. You want to make sure children are not left upset.  You will want to make sure they feel reassured and comforted by the fact that you are there to protect them. Cuddles are helpful especially for small children.

Be sure to let them know that if there is ever anything that troubles them, they can come to you to talk about it.

Conversations may not be a one off, check back with them occasionally to find out how they are.

 Not everything is bad

Make sure that children know that there are lots of people who feel like they do.  There are important people who are working to stop the war. Plenty of people also want to help those that are now refugees.  There are doctors and nurses who help the wounded and fire officers who search for people in the buildings and put out the fires.

Maybe it would help your child to do something themselves? Donate some clothes to charity or make cakes to sell to their friends as a fund raiser.  This can help children make a contribution and to feel more in control. 

Point out that often difficult situations being out the best in people; lots of people want to help.

 Consider people with compassion

Conflicts often develop stigma and prejudice about certain groups of people or countries. Be careful that your responses don’t play into this by labelling certain groups as “bad” or “evil”. 

Remind children that we all have lots of things in common where ever we come from and most people on both sides don’t want wars to happen.

 For more information:

https://www.unicef.org/parenting/how-talk-your-children-about-conflict-and-war

https://www.savethechildren.org.uk/blogs/2022/how-to-talk-to-children-about-war

https://www.youngminds.org.uk/parent/blog/top-tips-for-talking-to-your-young-person-about-the-events-in-ukraine/