When the news is dominated by stories of war and conflict, it can cause feelings of fear, sadness, anger, and anxiety, regardless of where you live. Knowing that, you may do your best to shield your child from such headlines, but children can discover the news in many ways.
That’s why it is important to check in with your children about what they’re seeing and hearing and have a conversation about how it is impacting them. Talking to your child about war is an opportunity to reassure them and potentially correct any inaccurate information they might have come across whether online, on TV, at school, or from friends.
However, it can be difficult to know how to approach a conversation about war with your child and even more challenging to find ways to provide your child with support and comfort. Continue reading for some tips on how to talk to your child about war.
1. Manage your own emotions first.
Children look to the adults in their lives for their sense of security, especially in times of conflict and crisis. It is normal and expected for you to feel sad, angry, or worried about what is happening but keep in mind that children take their emotional cues from adults.
In order to be the support and comfort your child needs, you will have to find a way to manage your own fears and worries. Take time for yourself and be mindful of how and when you’re consuming news. Try not to overshare your fears with your child; instead, reach out to other family, friends, and trusted people. Remind yourself that it is okay to not have the answers to every question your child might ask.
2. Find out what they know and how they feel.
A good starting point is to ask your child what they know and how they are feeling about it. Some children might know very little about what is happening and not be interested in talking about it, but others might be worrying in silence. With younger children, drawing, stories, and other activities may help to open up a discussion.
If children are encountering upsetting images and headlines it can feel like the crisis is all around them. Younger children may not distinguish between images on screen and their own personal reality and may believe they’re in immediate danger, even if the conflict is happening far away. Older children might have seen worrying things on social media and be scared about how events might escalate.
If your child seems worried or anxious about what’s happening, continue to check-in and keep an eye out for any changes in how they behave or feel, such as stomachaches, headaches, nightmares, or difficulties sleeping.
3. Keep it calm and age-appropriate.
Choose a time and place when you can bring it up naturally and your child is more likely to feel comfortable talking freely, such as during a family meal. Try to avoid talking about the topic just before bedtime. Use age-appropriate language, speak calmly, and be mindful of your body language, including facial expressions. Throughout your conversation, watch your child’s reactions and be sensitive to their level of anxiety.
Be aware of how exposed your children are to the news. Consider switching off the news around younger children. With older children, you could use it as an opportunity to discuss how much time they spend consuming news and what news sources they trust. Also consider how you talk about the conflict with other adults if your children are within hearing distance.
4. Spread compassion, not stigma.
Conflict often coincides with prejudice and discrimination, whether against a people or a country. Even if a conflict is happening in a distant country, it can fuel discrimination on your doorstep.
When talking to your children, avoid labels like “bad people” or “evil” and instead encourage compassion for those who are suffering, such as the families forced to flee their homes. Remind your child that everyone deserves to be safe at school and in society. Check that your child is not experiencing or contributing to bullying. If they have been called names or bullied at school, encourage them to tell you or an adult whom they trust.
Draw attention to the people and groups that are helping. It’s important for children to know that people are helping each other. Find positive stories, such as first responders assisting people or young people calling for peace, and share these with your child as examples of how we can each do our part to spread kindness and support each other.
5. Seek extra support if necessary.
If you and/or your child(ren) are struggling to manage the emotions that come along with the many reports of war, violence, and conflict in the news these days, consider booking a free consultation with one of our Calgary therapists to discuss how we might be able to support you. Even if we aren’t able to provide it, we will help connect you with the resources you need.