By Lorrie Henderson, Ph.D., MBA, LCSW
You can’t log in to social media or turn on the television without seeing news of the war waging against Ukraine from Russia. It is a difficult conversation for adults, but how do you explain something like this to your children.
Children are very perceptive and pick up their social cues from the adults in their lives, so it is critically important that when addressing this and other difficult topics, you do so in a manner and tone that is age appropriate. It is essential to give your children a safe space to express their concerns and fears and ask questions. You aren’t expected to know all the answers as the information available is ever-changing. But your children will appreciate knowing that they can come to you.
Here are some recommendations for having difficult conversations.
Focus on the helpers
Children need to see people helping other people. Find news stories or examples that show acts of kindness and courage where people are helping others. Ask your child if they would like to help the children impacted by the war. Find a family-friendly volunteer opportunity where your children can see how their actions make a difference for others.
Children need to know that there are people who helping each other with acts of courage and kindness.
Doing something, no matter how small, can often bring great comfort. See if your child would like to participate in taking positive action. Perhaps they could participate in a fundraising effort for a local relief organization. Doing something, no matter how small, can often bring great comfort.
Encourage compassion and understanding
You likely have strong opinions about the war. But when talking with your children, it is important to put your personal feelings aside and give them the time to express their concerns. Rather than focus on the “bad people” or the “evil acts,” try instead to focus on having compassion and understanding for the families forced to flee their homes.
Be sure that any information you are sharing is accurate and age-appropriate for your child. They will have questions and it is important to reassure them that they are safe.
Your kids may hear things at school or with their friends that conflict with your family’s personal beliefs. Remind them that bullying or being bullied is not acceptable and that they should tell you or an adult if they are experiencing anything that makes them uncomfortable.
End your conversation with a question
Make sure that your child is not feeling anxious or concerned when you end the conversation.
Ask a couple more questions about how they are feeling and if there is anything else they want to know. Pay attention to their body language. You know your child best. If they are breathing differently, avoiding eye contact, or other activities are out of the norm, check in with them again. Remind them that you are there to listen and that they can come to you no matter what.
It is impossible to keep your children from hearing and seeing news about the war. But you can limit their time on their devices and create device-free time as a family. That goes for the adults, too. Taking a break from social media and online news sites, as well as traditional news outlets, will provide a much-needed respite from the barrage of information.
It’s important to respond appropriately to your children’s curiosity and anxiety and validate their feelings. Let them know that you are also concerned and that they can always come to you.
Lorrie Henderson, Ph.D., MBA, LCSW is president and CEO of Jewish Family & Children’s Service of Arizona.