How to talk to your child about what is happening in Ukraine
A few days ago, my son asked me: “Mom, is there still a war in Ukraine?” ….Will it come to us too?… I’m scared, we’re on vacation, and people are dying at that place I don’t feel good about this..”… he looked anxious and worried. He told me that he had been watching some news and since then he couldn’t sleep and was restless.
We both went to bed looking at the stars and the moon. We counted more than 10 planes flying overhead and that’s how my conversation with him began. The next morning he told me that he slept well for the first time in a week.
I came across this podcast episode by Alison Schafer after our talk and I’m glad we share the same opinion.
I am grateful for such support and share it translated here.
Imagine you are a child and you happen to hear “wave of violence”, “bombing”, “invasion”, “World War III”, “consequences greater than any in history”.
Without experience and understanding, a child can hastily draw dire conclusions that dangers lie ahead for him and his or her family.
As parents, we are responsible for the psychological safety of our children, but we cannot be sure what they will hear or see and how they will interpret it.
Here are some tips from Alison Schafer for effectively managing this communication in an age-appropriate way:
Under 7 years old
Try to protect them from any exposure to these messages (images, sounds, stories). This means not watching the news while your toddler plays nearby with his blocks on the floor. If the news comes on your car radio when you’re taking your 5-year-old to the park, change to a music station. They can’t really understand complex situations like this, but are greatly affected by scary sounds and sights and feel scared, worried and confused.
If you still have to answer a question, stick to simple explanations: “two neighboring countries a few hundred km apart are at war. This happens far away and we are safe here. There have been wars before and I am sure they will agree to peace.”
Your attitude is contagious. If you are calm, your child is more likely to be calm.
Some parents may not be able to contain their fears and emotions. Circumstances may be different for families who have relatives in Ukraine, or perhaps your family is a refugee from another war-torn country, etc. Everyone’s experience is different.
It’s okay to say, “I’m deeply upset about what’s going on. I really want all people to get along and no more wars.” It’s important not to worry your children so they don’t feel like they have to take care of you!
It’s your job to make them feel safe.
Ask them what they have heard and understood so far. That way, you can help clear up any misunderstandings and summarize enough of the basics that they feel safe.
Don’t lie, always tell the truth, but be precise in your choice of words to share enough to answer their questions and make them feel safe.
It’s okay to say “we’re safe, but we’re worried about others. If I learn anything else you should know, I’ll let you know. Leave that to me.”
When children’s sense of safety and security is threatened, they may need extra cuddles and closeness. Take time to slow down and be calm, close and comforting to help them regain a sense of safety.
Your easygoing attitude is contagious.
If you are calm in the family environment, the inner world of the children will also be stable.
They will have access to social media and news sites. Help them check the accuracy of what they see and make sense of it.
Even terrible events can seem extra bent. Images can be upsetting, so discuss the difference between awareness and news overload and how to balance avoiding endless addictive scrolling all day.
Follow the child’s interest in politics, history and current events. Don’t overdo it if it’s in your interest rather than theirs.
For all ages: DO something
When we feel powerless about events, it is important to ask ourselves “What can I do?”. We may not be able to fix everything, but everyone can do something! Even from afar.
This is how we promote social activity and responsibility.
This can range from allowing a young child to feel empowered to freely ask difficult questions that are weighing on them, or hanging a crayon picture filled with peace signs in a prominent place for example, on the window.
You can fly the Ukrainian flag or post it on your social media. Make a donation or attend a local discussion group, protest or event together.
Author: Alison Shafer
Translation: Boryana Pancheva