Watching the children’s news with our kids was the only way I could think of approaching the subject. They had heard about Russian troops invading Ukraine, but they didn’t realize what it meant for the Ukrainian adults and children.
It was only when a Ukrainian boy, living in Holland, earnestly explained how he and his mom wearily facetimed his sheltering grandmother on the hour, every hour, that the notion of war sank in.
When the boy solemnly raised his national flag on Dutch soil, we all felt emotional. Suddenly this was real. These brave people have to fight a war they don’t want.
How to approach the subject?
Ane Lemche, a psychologist & child counselor with Save the Children, says:
“What is happening in Ukraine can be frightening for both children and adults. Ignoring or avoiding the topic can lead to children feeling lost, alone, and more scared, which can affect their health and well-being. It is essential to have open and honest conversations with children to help them process what is happening”
But if you’re a parent struggling to understand the invasion and feeling anxious watching heartbreaking accounts of the people affected, how can you reassure your children?
Before we get started on the steps, it helps if you inform yourself with credible news sources. Forego Facebook and look up news sites with reports you can trust.
Then after digesting the facts, try the following:
It’s tempting to have CNN or BBC News on a loop, but this won’t help your child feel less anxious. We may be less sensitive to traumatic images, but your children won’t be.
And as Dr. Gene Beresin, executive director of the free online resource hub The Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds, told the LA Times: “Many, many, many children who witnessed 9/11 on TV, who witnessed the Oklahoma bombing on TV, who witnessed the Challenger disaster on TV, got post-traumatic stress disorder. The Media is huge.”
So do your research in your own time, without prying eyes.
- Listen to your child and see how she feels.
Check-in with your child and find out what she knows already. She may have heard her teacher talking about it or seen headlines on her device. Find out if she has questions, and figure out if worries or fears about being safe shine through.
As Dr. Silverman explains in the New York Times — if your child asks: “Is this World War III?” then respond with questions to understand what her greatest niggle is, she said. According to Silverman, a great one to ask is: “What do you mean by that?”
- Address her questions honestly and age-appropriately
When replying to questions, take her age into account. With younger children, you don’t need to over-explain, according to Save the Children — too much detail might make them more anxious. But older children might worry more, as they know what war means, so take the time to validate their fears without dismissing them.
Explain calmly to your child that politicians and volunteers worldwide are working hard to resolve the conflict.
- Watch kids’ news together and keep an eye on social media feeds.
I can’t recommend watching age-appropriate childrens’ news enough. In kids’ news bulletins, reporters often focus on how difficult situations affect kids — giving your children an insight into other kids’ worlds.
We have been watching kids’ news over the last few years, and I have found it helps them form well-thought opinions. BY watching it daily, we can process any distressing events together.
Take Andrea Barbalich, editor-in-chief of the Week Junior, a weekly newsmagazine for kids ages 8–14 with 100,000 US subscribers. Her newsletter has been covering Ukraine.
“We’re very calm in our tone and we’re selective in the facts that we present,” she told LA Times. By avoiding upsetting information and focussing on the helpers wherever her staff can, they can help children feel less afraid.
Also, when your children are older, figure out what ‘news’ they see on social media feeds. In a fake news world, they need to realize what’s real and what’s not.
- How can you help?
Find out how you can help the situation. Maybe you can organize a fundraiser? Perhaps your child can donate her allowance to the Ukraine Crisis Children’s Fund or the Unicef Ukraine Appeal for the 7.5 million children at risk?
It all boils down to this
Watching the Russian invasion unfold is frightening, and our thoughts are with the Ukrainian people defending their nation so fiercely.
If you struggle to explain the conflict to your children, help is at hand.
First, keep informed, but watch your news consumption in front of your children. Some images are highly upsetting for them, so avoid the
Also, watch your child and see how she feels. Find out what makes her anxious. If she feels worried, answer her questions calmly and in a focused manner.
Check out news sites for kids. Try Times for Kids or BBC Newsround.
Finally, concentrate on what you can do to help. There are many charities out there focused on helping Ukraine. With 7.5 million children at risk, it’s important to know humanitarian help is crucial.
Please donate here.
Previously published on Medium.
Picture credit: Unsplash