How To Talk To Your Children About War

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Unfortunately at the moment, we are all surrounded by the terrible news of what is happening in Ukraine. It is consuming all the news and media outlets and you can’t go anywhere without hearing about it. And with this, when we are out and about, we have our children with us. A question on lots of parents’ lips is, how do we protect our children from this? What if they have questions? How do we talk to them about this awful situation? Here are some ways we think that you could address this difficult subject with your little loved ones.

1 Ask What They Know and What They Want To Find Out

This does not need to be forced at all. Find a time when it is natural and comfortable to bring up/address this conversation. A time when the child feels most comfortable maybe during family dinner time. Try to avoid bringing this up just before bedtime as your child may become distressed. If they do, always try to end that conversation with something positive such as reading their favourite book.

Start with the questions of what do they know about what is going on, and how does it make them feel. Your child may have heard about what is going on but not be interested in talking about it or know what it all means. Drawing pictures with them or using a story may be a good way into the topic. 

It is important to address any incorrect information that children may have heard or seen. Children access information in lots of different ways and it is important to address what is true and what isn’t. A constant stream of upsetting images or videos will make the child feel that they are in immediate danger. 

If they ask a question such as “Are we all going to die?”, this may seem extreme to you. But you need to reassure them that this won’t happen and try to find out where they have heard that from. If you can find out where their worries are coming from then you will be able to assure them more. Don’t push away or dismiss any of their questions, they need to feel that their views are valid and are being listened to.

2 Make Sure It Is Age-Appropriate

Children have a right to know what is going on in the world, but they do not need to know every little detail. You know your child best and you know what they can process and understand. While you are talking, be on the watch for their reactions and anxiety and adjust your vocabulary accordingly.

Remember, that children take their emotional cues from adults. It is normal that you may be feeling upset and worried at the same time but try not to overshare these with your child. Speak calmly and be mindful of your body language and facial expressions. 

It is okay for you to not have every answer. You can be open and honest with your child and say that that is something that you need to look up or check to make sure your information is correct. 

3 Talk About The Help That Is Happening

This is a really important one. Children need to know about the help that is happening as well as the bad news. There is so much support going on in this country to help the people of Ukraine. Find the positive stories to share with your children. The collection points where people have taken food or clothing, the families in Berlin who are taking in Ukrainian families and giving them somewhere to live. 

You could see if your child wants to take part in some of this positive help. Perhaps they could draw a picture or poster calling for peace. The sense of doing something, no matter how small, can often bring great comfort.

4 End The Conversation With Care

At the end of the conversation, your child might be distressed, and this is understandable. Try not to leave your child in a place of distress. Assess their level of anxiety by watching their body language, their facial expressions and think about if they are using their normal tone of voice. Remind them that you are there to protect them and look after them and that whenever they feel worried they can come to you.

5 Continue To Check-In

After the initial conversation, continue to check in with them over time. Sadly, this situation is not going away anytime soon, and we need to protect our little ones throughout. Continue to ask them how they are feeling and if they have any more/new questions about the topic. 

Keep a lookout for any behaviour changes. As mentioned before, you know your child the best, and you know when something will be bothering them. Children have different reactions to stressful events and some signs of distress might not be so obvious. Younger children may become clingier than usual, while teens might show intense grief or anger.

A technique that you could try to help them to release any stress could be to do some breathing techniques with them such as:

– Take 5 deep breaths, spend 5 seconds breathing in and 5 seconds breathing out, breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth

– Explain that when your child inhales, they are blowing up their tummy softly like a balloon, and when they exhale the air is going slowly out of the balloon again.

6 Try Your Best To Limit Their Exposure

As mentioned before, it is hard to protect our children from hearing and seeing what is happening. Consider switching off the news around younger children, or discussing with older children how you can’t always believe what is written in the media. If you are around other adults, try not to talk about conflict while children are within listening distance. 

7 Look After Yourself

In all of this, we have talked about how to look after your little loved ones. Throughout this, you also need to think about looking after yourself. You will be better at helping your children to cope if you are coping yourself. If you’re feeling anxious or upset, take time for yourself and reach out to other family, friends and trusted people. As much as you are able, take some time to do things that help you relax and recuperate.

All clinicians at Oxford CBT practice Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, or are Psychologists, providing evidence-based interventions and support for a range of issues for both young people and adults. If you would like to book an appointment you can do so on our online booking portal. If you have a question please get in touch via our online contact form or call us on 01865 920077.

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