When events in the world are scary and tragic, it's totally understandable to want to protect our children from it. Our instinct is to let them keep believing that the world is safe and that bad things don't happen, for as long as possible.
But kids are incredibly attuned to our emotional states, stressed expressions and any tension at home. They easily sense when something's going on or when things aren't right. Without an adult to explain what is happening, children’s imaginations often create scenarios that are even worse than reality.
There is a war in Ukraine. This is all over the news, all over social media, all of our hearts and minds. If we don’t get in front of explaining this to our kids, they will explain it to themselves.
This particular war is creating whispers of worst case scenarios. If you are talking about it, reading about it, and watching it unfold on TV at home, be sure that your children are aware. It’s okay to have strong feelings about current events, and for your children to see your emotions, but they need to know that you can take care of yourself, and that you can take care of them.
Take a deep breath, so you are calm and regulated. It can help to physically put your hand on your heart to soothe your nervous system.
See what they know. “You may have heard about what is happening in Ukraine. I’m curious what you know and I’m here to answer questions.”
Be honest and clear. “The leadership of Russia has invaded Ukraine, and as with any war, people will be hurt and killed. That’s why you’re seeing so many grown-ups who are so sad. You are safe, we are safe, but we care about the experience of people even when they are far away.”
Pause. Let the information land. See what your child has to say.
Listen. Make room for any reaction. Your child does not need to be interested, or sad, we just need to tell them so that they don’t pick up on unspoken cues of our collective distress.
Describe the age-appropriate facts. If your child has questions, look up answers together on child-friendly news sources, like Newsela. If your child is repeating mis-information, help them to think through more reliable sources. Answer only the questions they’ve asked and resist going into longer explanations. This is not one conversation, but unfortunately an ongoing discussion.
When you can’t answer a question, acknowledge it. These are complicated questions that are an opportunity for critical thinking, investigation, and the acceptance of a reality where we don’t always have answers. Get comfortable with the idea that we can’t solve these problems for our children or ourselves, but that we can help make peace with the discomfort and uncertainty.
Stick to routines. Whenever things in the world feel uncertain, even far away, it’s important to lean on routines to keep things as stable as possible for your child. This is also helpful to manage your own emotions and be present for your family.
If you notice your child is having anxiety around current events, after this discussion or at any point, let them know that you are there and strategize ways for them to remain informed while also taking care of their own emotions. Reassure them that it makes sense to feel anxious right now, and that we all feel similarly.
Keep in mind that there is really never a reason to expose children to TV news reports and graphic details of scary topics. Large doses of media coverage can be very harmful even to adults. The news is built on keeping an audience engaged and anxious. Turn it off the minute you feel your nervous system become activated. You can keep informed without obsessively watching the news, and are modeling for your family how to keep connected without becoming unhinged. When we over empathize, it is harder to have rational compassion because our pain centers light up. This can overwhelm our nervous system and shut us down. In that state, you’re not helping anyone.
We will continue to have this conversation as events unfold. I’m here for any follow-up questions and support.
Thanks for being a part of Raising Good Humans. We are in this together.