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How to talk to your kids about the war in Ukraine

Here we offer a few tips on how to talk to your children in an age appropriate way about the war in Ukraine and it's impact




So many of us grown ups —even those without a personal connection to Ukraine—are feeling the stresses of war from afar, children and teens are also experiencing fear, frustration, and helplessness.

So here are some things we can do to make it a little easier for our children:

1. Listen and make ourselves available to talk, assure children that they are safe Urge compassion toward those affected by the war. We should also let kids know that it’s okay to feel sad, worried, or scared, these are a wide range of normal human emotions that we all need to feel in life. “Worry about the war is not all bad—it means that a child has empathy and is trying to understand what is happening” We can channel this into action and when it is not bottled up, worry can even be remarkably productive. It is just that with less life experience and independence than adults, young people need help navigating news about the crisis. Sometimes, the dinner table or the car can be a great place to start.

For younger children, having fun on the trampoline, playing with their dolls or drawing can also help them to process and talk to you.

2. First, process your own emotions Our children can pick up on our own emotional cues through our conversations with others and our own emotional reactions to situations. If you’re feeling worried, angry, or stressed, it’s best to work through our own feelings first so that we can offer a calm, open space to talk with our children. Parents should be aware that even infants, toddlers, and preschool-age children can pick up on anxiety in their family members, so we need to be very careful in terms of what they potentially overhear us talking to others about. 3. Expect questions and be proactive Be prepared for questions from your children before talking to them, they may ask a range of questions, which will depend both on your child’s age and their individual sensitivities. Younger children might wonder if their parents or friends could get hurt, while a teenager might want to protest or wonder if there will be a nuclear war. Recent life experiences also matter, a lot—a child already grieving the loss of a loved one or who may have been deeply impacted by the pandemic, may feel increased distress as their threshold and window of tolerance to distress is lower. For example an only child who was a toddler with parents working from home in stressful jobs and had a house move within limited family support during the pandemic, may feel a deeper impact than a child in differing circumstances. It is also important for us as parents to confidently initiate conversations about the war if a child hasn’t already done so. Just because they are not talking about it doesn't mean that they are not aware or affected by it all, it is not fair to assume that. A great starting point with children in general start by asking what they’ve heard. For younger children it is important to use clear and accurate language to avoid misinterpretations and confusion for them example: “I’m wondering if you’ve heard that a war started way across the world,” emphasizing that the conflict is far away, but using accurate terms, such as “war.” For older children and teens, consider asking what their friends are saying about the war and what they have seen or know along with how they feel about it. This highlights and helps your children to understand that your family talks openly about life’s challenges and you are open to hearing from them. 4. Share information and tell children they are safe Give children age-appropriate basic information about the war and talk together about safety. For younger children 3-5 yrs old, clear specific conversations are important with limited detail such as “People in Ukraine are collecting food, finding shelter, and helping each other.” For primary school children 5-11yrs old, more appropriate detail is necessary, such as “People are leaving their homes to find bomb shelters and safe places, and depending on each other for support.” Children often wonder how these events will affect them. Reassure your child that the war is happening in a different part of the world and that they are safe but tanigbly explain how it is affecting fuel costs and food but that we are ok and safe. In early secondary school 12-15yrs old, kids start to differentiate from their parents and voice their own ideas. “This is a good opportunity for deeper conversations about global issues, safety in the media - on social media apps, and how to access reliable sources of information online, it can open up much deeper conversations. By late secondary school 15 yrs +, teens are old enough to understand the deadly consequences of war, with perspective-taking allowing them to explore this more. You might discuss feelings around other kids their age fleeing their homes, taking up arms, or worrying about dying as these will be real immediate worries and concerns for older children.


5. Discuss how the war affects your family Each family will have differing circumstances surrounding the war and for families directly affected by the war, including some military families and those with relatives living in Ukraine, conversations will unfold differently. It is important to clearly emphasise the uncertainty of the situation with gentle honesty, for example: “We’re doing whatever we can to figure out what’s going on, but we’re not sure yet.” Although our children might want to hear blanket guarantees and reassurances around what is happening you need to be careful as although it is soothing, it is not directly true, so it is not helpful to them. In other words, don’t say: “Everything will be fine.” Do say: “We’re keeping in close contact. Our relatives are taking steps to stay safe.” More specifically to Ireland we can discuss the impact on the food chain, fuel costs and the impact on oil to heat our homes, this tangibly helps them see how interconnected we are in the world and how the chain of supply works. 6. Focus on the people helping We can also look to see what good is happening so emphasizing how people are supporting Ukrainians can all help to make kids feel safer and a little more shielded from terror and that even in hard and scary times, people are always willing to come forward to help and support each other. Explain to children that diplomats, humanitarian workers such as the red cross are on the ground creating corridors to evacuate people safely, UNICEF are raising funds, supplies, transport and logistics along with local people, our government's are all trying to work together to come to a solution. They are all working day and night to try to keep the people of Ukraine safe. 7. Help children become part of the solution As stated above, so many people are helping and our children might like to also. Open any discussions around this with them, they might like to raise money for charity, send some donations of supplies as a family or get involved in a peaceful protest if they are older. Also being open and kind to any children coming to their school or staying locally, offering to help them integrate to life here in Ireland and becoming friends. All of this can mobilise them into action which can help them feel empowered. 8. Ensure media exposure is monitored Unlike media coverage of previous wars, we now have constant, immediate access to some very graphic images and videos of violence through social media and 24-hour news. At least open conversations about what they are seeing on their phones and turn the TV off or change the channel when young children are in the room to avoid exposing them to distressing footage. It’s likely that teenagers are encountering some distressing images on social media, such as on TikTok, Instagram and Whatsapp. Ask them what they’ve seen and how they feel about it. Is there something they’d like more information about? Consider watching or reading coverage of the war together with your teen. That may include a discussion about how to distinguish reliable sources of news from misinformation along with how to protect themselves online Seek outside support If your child needs additional help, reach out to other adults, such as counsellors at school, other parents, or family members, for support. Access resources that can help your child with self-regulation, such breathing and muscle relaxation exercises that you can practice together. We have listed some online meditation links here: Deep Muscle Relaxation (754) Guided Deep Muscle Relaxation - YouTube Meditation, reassurance for worrying times (754) Comfort & Reassurance: Guided Sleep Talkdown for Uncertain Times - YouTube Autogenic Meditation to regulate the nervous system (754) 🎧Guided Meditation: Reduce Panic, Anxiety & Worry (Healing Autogenic Meditation) - YouTube Cosmic Kids, Yoga on Youtube (754) Kids Yoga For World Mental Health Day! 🧠 Yoga Club (Week 62) | Cosmic Kids Yoga - YouTube Finally, watch for signs that may indicate significant distress, such as sudden changes in sleeping or eating habits, irritability, or a preoccupation with violent media. In these cases, consider seeking support from you GP or mental health professional. Further reading: Whole Brain Child The Whole-Brain Child: 12 Proven Strategies to Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind: Amazon.co.uk: Bryson, Dr Tina Payne, Siegel, Dr. Daniel: 9781780338378: Books Whole Brain Child WorkbookThe Whole-Brain Child Workbook: Practical Exercises, Worksheets and Activitis to Nurture Developing Minds: Practical Exercises, Worksheets and Activities to Nurture Developing Minds: Amazon.co.uk: Siegel, Daniel J, Payne Bryson, Tina: 9781936128747: Books No Drama Discipline No-Drama Discipline: the bestselling parenting guide to nurturing your child's developing mind (Mindful Parenting): Amazon.co.uk: Siegel MD, Daniel J., Bryson, Tina Payne: 0884963714026: Books





References:


American Psychological Association Talking to kids about the war in Ukraine (apa.org)




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