Parent tips: talking about war and conflict
As adults we are watching the news about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine unfold with so many mixed emotions, but so too are some of the kids around us. Whether they’re young and hearing clips of the media we’re engaged with, or if they’re a little older they may be participating in conversations or seeing news in their own social media streams, it’s important to be mindful that our kids may be experiencing a wide range of new or amplified emotions.
As is the case with any tragic news or events, all people respond in different ways. For example, you may notice the following types of reactions: preoccupation with violence and death, physical complaints like stomach aches and headaches, anxiety, sadness, withdrawal, increased aggression, mood changes, and difficulty concentrating.
In the context of taking a trauma informed approach, District Support Counsellor Zaida Manji had this to add, “Children may have a variety of feelings that may arise, such as anger, frustration, guilt, shame, grief and confusion … as this news may also trigger past events they’ve experienced and stories they’ve heard. Be sensitive to children as they are processing these events and trying to understand all of this in the best way they know how to.”
One of the best ways to support kids who may be exposed to this news or experiencing challenging emotions, is for them to have conversations with trusted adults. Here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Be honest, fact-check when needed, and consider where and when you have conversations (e.g. at the dinner table might be better than at bedtime).
- Take a moment to understand your own feelings, thoughts and triggers before broaching conversations with your kids, as your perspective and demeanour will likely influence how your children feel about these situations.
- Ask questions to first gauge their feelings and knowledge, listen, and acknowledge the feelings that are being expressed.
- Keep conversations age-appropriate and try to wrap them up on reassuring notes, or with an openness to talking more if needed.
- Be aware of “media overload” and consider where the importance of setting limits to exposure might be helpful.
For those of you looking for some more support on how to have these conversations at home:
- UNICEF has this helpful article: “How to talk to your children about conflict and war: 8 tips to support and comfort your children.”
- From age 2 to your oldest teens, Common Sense Media has in-depth tips on how to make these tough conversations age-appropriate: “How to Talk to Kids About Violence, Crime, and War.”
- The American Psychological Association has provided tips and strategies to guide kids beyond fear and to resilience, broken down by school levels:
Again, every person and every household will have their own reactions to what’s happening around us right now, and that’s normal. There are many reasons why one student or one family might be feeling the weight of this news more than some others are: whether that’s a result of family history and connection to the region, past experiences with war or conflict, or any other number of reasons. Please reach out to family, friends and community for support if you or someone in your household needs it.
If you feel like your child might need some additional support right now, please reach out to your classroom teacher, administrator, or directly to the counsellors at your school.