All eyes are on Eastern Europe and you may be wondering how to talk to your child about Ukraine.
These are not “normal times”; we cannot expect ourselves to feel or be “normal”.
As tensions rise and all eyes turn to Ukraine, it’s important to acknowledge how readily accessible information can be for our children.
This can be helpful, informative information; it can also be ‘fake’ news and filled with fear-mongering tactics for click-bait.
It’s important that we take the time to talk to our children about what they are seeing, hearing, and feeling.
In this blog I share a conversation that I had with a Year 6 student this week. I pulled on my skills from the wellbeing coaching sessions that I lead to navigate his questions. I outlined them below to hopefully help you talk to your child about Ukraine.
Check in with Yourself
I’m so pleased that you want to address this with your family and start a line of communication.
But it won’t be easy. Holding space to hear others’ fears and worries takes effort and practise.
You being here, learning ways to talk to your child about Ukraine, tells me that you’re willing to lean into feeling uncomfortable because you acknowledge the importance of creating a line of communication right now.
So my first piece of advice is to pause and spend some time reflecting on your own thoughts, feelings, and possible bias.
- What am I currently feeling in this moment?
- Where am I receiving my news? How do I know I can trust it?
- What am I afraid of?
- Can I do something to help myself process these feelings or take control of my fears?
- What do I want my children to remember about this time?
- What values do I want them to see and experience as we navigate this uncertainty?
Only after you have taken the time to pause and do the self-reflection should you move on to the next steps.
We can’t be there for others if we haven’t supported ourselves first.
Call a Family Meeting
Family meetings are an incredible way to have a meaningful conversation.
Due to the nature of family meetings, the expectation is that everyone will be able to participate in the conversation and all feelings will be validated which will provide the best space to talk to your child about Ukraine
As this is a vulnerable topic, establishing this core code of conduct will help to promote honest conversation.
We cannot assume what our child is being exposed to while away from the house. Instead, it’s important to ask an open-ended question.
This will allow you to judge the situation and determine their perspective.
“What do you know about the situation in Ukraine?”
“How do you feel about the situation in Ukraine?”
Some children may be genuinely curious, others anxious, and some not in the know at all.
“I have already heard teens on social media sharing jokes about gearing up to be drafted for World War III or about nuclear threats to cities that they may live in,”Dr. Hina Talib, an adolescent medicine specialist at the Atria Institute and pediatrician at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York quoted from The Times.
We can’t expect our children to have the same information as we do, so taking the time to unpick their answers and understand their feelings will help us navigate better.
Respond by Acknowledging, Consoling, Connecting, and Refocusing
When talking to your child about Ukraine, it’s important to acknowledge how they feel, console their worries, connect with them and refocus on a positive.
For children who are curious, try and respond to the queries calmly. If you don’t know an answer, talk to them about ways they can access the information. Highlight the importance of getting information from reliable sources.
For children who are not very aware, simply tell them that you are here to talk or listen when and if they’d like to discuss it more.
Children who are anxious may not outwardly express their feelings. Instead, it’s important to be tuned in to their demeanor.
Anxiety can be displayed through changes in appetite, poor sleep, increased agitation, and lower tolerance for things going wrong. (CITE)
Yesterday, during an English session with a Year 6 child, I was asked: “Is this the start of World War 3?”
I felt frozen. My brain kept yelling “What you say here matters!! Don’t mess up!”
So I took a deep breath and I asked:
“What do you mean World War 3?”
He responded: “Like are we going to be sent away on trains from our parents and our homes to escape bombs?”
“You mean like what you were learning about when reading Goodnight Mr. Tom?”
Acknowledge: “I can understand why your brain is wondering if you’ll be sent away from your family. You read about it happening in World War 2.”
Console: “I believe that to be highly unlikely. There are many things that are stopping the war from coming to our doorstep.” (I could have elaborated on what those ‘things’ are, but didn’t think it was my place.)
Connect: “Have you spoken to mum or dad about this yet?”
“Do you feel comfortable talking to them about it?”
“Yes, but I feel a bit better now. What about the kids in Ukraine who are being sent away from their home?”
Refocus: “What do you think we could do to help support them?”
“Could we send them some materials or letters to know we’re thinking of them?”
“I think that’s a great idea. There are a few charities that are accepting donations and I believe some children would really value a letter – even if it’s done by Google Translate.”
I don’t think this was a perfect example of handling a child’s fears or questions. But hopefully, it provides you with an idea of how our job as the listener is to understand their big worry and help them feel more at ease.
At the end of it all, the best way to ease anxiety is to provide facts that can help ease or dispel the exaggerated stories our brain is thinking. The more control we can provide ourselves and our families in how we help and learn more, the less intimidating and scary it will feel.
How to support your child’s worries about Ukraine
At the end of it all, the best way to talk to your child about Ukraine and ease anxiety is to provide facts that can help ease or dispel the exaggerated stories our brain is thinking. The more control we can provide ourselves and our families in how we help and learn more, the less intimidating and scary it will feel.