On Thursday 24th February, Russian military forces entered the country of Ukraine and began the first war in Europe for decades. Since then our TV screens and social media feeds have been full of reports, images, fact and fiction on the conflict. We may well feel horrified, confused, worried, angry and more by what we are currently witnessing. We are not the only ones though. Children and young people today are more tech savvy and aware of global issues than ever. Geographically the war may be in a different country, but digitally it is all around them – and it is causing feelings.
As adults it is our job to help any children we care for to navigate safely and securely through these uncertain times. To help them discuss their feelings, learn and grow throughout this conflict. We need to master not the art of war, but the art of war talk.
Cared-for children have likely already have experienced uncertain and stressful times. Even young children may well be adept at picking up on grown-up conversations and be afraid something big is going to happen in their lives again. Catching TV news snippets or TikTok videos without any perspective can also cause distress and fear. Therefore, whatever age we work with, it is vital to address the current conflict with our children and young people, but how?
Clearly precisely how we handle our war talk will depend on the age, ability and even personality of the child involved, but there is a broad path we can follow. Firstly, discover what they already know or think about the situation and how they feel about it. Listen carefully to their answers and avoid correcting misinformation at this point. As ever, also avoid simply saying, “don’t worry”, however tempting it may be. It is important to validate feelings as this will encourage trust, openness and calm in the future as well as the present.
After you’ve found out where they’re at, address any questions, feelings or misinformation they expressed. You may want to give an age-appropriate explanation of what is happening or do some investigating together online using reliable sources. Younger children may find it helpful to look at a world map and see where Ukraine is, or find out a bit about the country, while older children may be able to deal with more detail about the conflict itself. Newsround have recorded a report which is clear, concise and doesn’t contain violent images. As you discuss feelings, acknowledge their concerns and reassure them. Try to land somewhere between doom-mongering and pretending everything is fine!
Finally, you may want to encourage your child to help by donating to a humanitarian project. Doing something practical can bring back a sense of control and reduce fear. You could donate some money online or go shopping and let them choose a few things from a charity wishlist. Help From Bournemouth To Ukraine are using the old Argos shop at Castlepoint to take donations if you need a starting point.
If you want any further advice on talking to children about the conflict in Ukraine, or want to discuss anything else, please contact us. Together we can help these uncertain times feel a little safer.