How To Talk To Your Child About War

War in ukraine
War brings anxiety and anticipation for children across the world.
Be mindful of the child’s age as you approach the conversation with them. Young children may not understand what conflict or war means and require an age-appropriate explanation.

For children around the world, the events in Ukraine are difficult to understand, frightening and sad. Ane Lemche, a psychologist and child counsellor with Save the Children believes it is essential to have open and honest conversations to help them process what is happening.

“What is happening in Ukraine can be frightening for both children and adults,” she says. “Ignoring or avoiding the topic can lead to children feeling lost, alone and more scared, which can affect their health and wellbeing.”

Here are some expert tips for caregivers to approach this difficult subject with children.

Be proactive about talking about the crisis

If your child is eight or older and will probably hear about the conflict at school, it can be a good idea to talk to them about it yourself first, suggests child psychologist, Dr Gilboa, in this article in The Independent. She recommends asking a question: Have you heard? What have you heard? This will allow you to determine the conceptions they have already formed and their initial reactions. Listen to their emotional response and be there to support them and answer any questions.

Validate their feelings and really listen

Reassure your child that they can come and talk to you at any time and that you will check in with them regularly. They may have formed a completely different picture of the situation than you have. Take the time to listen to what they think, and what they have seen or heard. If they are relaying information you believe is untrue, asks them for the source rather than dismissing it; this will help them to learn the best ways of curating news and information. When children have the chance to have an open and honest conversation about things upsetting them, it can create a sense of relief and safety.

 Remember you are speaking to a child

Be mindful of the child’s age as you approach the conversation with them. Young children may not understand what conflict or war means and require an age-appropriate explanation. Be careful not to over-explain the situation or go into too much detail as this can make children unnecessarily anxious.

As a general rule, Dr Gilboa recommends, not broaching the topic with a child under the age of eight. If they’re that young, only talk to them if the war is going to have a direct impact on your family, she says. If your young child asks you about it, try not to convey too much information at once, Dr Gilboa continues; one fact per conversation, and one value: eg oppression is wrong; our family is safe.

Older children may be ready for more nuanced conversation, and able to think more critically about the situation, although they are also more likely to understand what war means and be more concerned as they understand the dangers.

Don’t be afraid of saying you don’t know

Your child might ask you questions that you simply don’t know the answer to and it’s fine to admit this. It’s also fine to admit that you are scared, too. War is complex and uncertain and you can name the feelings that accompany our confusion such as fear, anger and sadness, whilst reminding your child that right now they are safe.

Beware of over saturation

If your child has access to a device, they might well come across content that disturbs them. Try to discourage them from reading/ watching sensationalist stories and if they do, keep the conversation open and honest. Lead by example and try to put your own devices away in the evenings. Signs that your child is traumatised by what they have seen include changes in sleep, bad behaviour, headaches, lethargy, anger and tearfulness.

Reassure them that adults all over the world are working hard to resolve this

Remind children that this is not their problem to solve. They should not feel guilty about playing, seeing their friends, and doing the things that make them happy. Stay calm when you approach the conversation. Children often copy the sentiments of their caregivers – if you are uneasy about the situation, chances are your child will be uneasy as well.

Give them a practical way to help

Children who have the opportunity to help those affected by the conflict can feel like they are part of the solution. Children can create fundraisers, send letters to local decision-makers or create drawings calling for peace.

Save the Children has been operating in Ukraine since 2014, delivering essential humanitarian aid to children and their families. This includes supporting access to education, distributing winter kits and hygiene kits, and providing cash grants to families. Our specialists support children to overcome the mental and psychological impacts of their experiences of conflict and violence and increase their ability to cope with stress in their daily lives. 

Every war is a war against children and right now there is no safe place in Ukraine. Save the Children is appealing for $19 million to reach 3.5 million children and their families that are in danger across the region.

To donate to Save the Children or discover more ways you can help click here.





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