Our hearts break as we watch violence unfold in Ukraine and we are deeply concerned for our friends and colleagues from the region. We expect that parents and providers across the country will face questions in the coming days from children or observe unusual behavior.
Talking about news like this can be difficult.
To help, we have a guide below for how to navigate these conversations and help very young children (6 and under) regulate heightened fears and insecurities.
MINIMIZE NEWS FEED
Avoid leaving the news on for extended periods in front of young children. Children are concrete thinkers and often think a faraway event is occurring near them or that pre-recoded video is happening in real-time. It is also possible they will imitate what they see, including violence.
BE HONEST BUT DON’T OVERSHARE
Don’t overshare details. Small doses of information are best for children’s cognition. Oversharing or overtalking can prevent children from having space to think, process, and make connections independently.
FIND OUT WHAT THEY KNOW FIRST
If your child brings up the subject, see what they know first. Ask them what questions they might have or what they may have already heard. Reassure them that they are safe and stay calm.
IT’S OK TO SAY YOU DON’T KNOW
Not all questions are answerable. Why do people go to war? When will the war end?
Instead of inventing an answer, you can admit that you don’t have all the information or need time to find a solid answer. The most important thing is to make children feel safe, even when there are uncertainties.
TALK ABOUT PEOPLE WHO ARE HELPING
Do you remember Mr. Roger’s famous “look for helpers” motto after bad things happen? This time and tested advice still holds.
Children lean towards helpful, constructive people. Talk about doctors, organizations, journalists, peace activists, or community leaders helping those hurt by war or those who find a path to resolve conflicts. Remind them that the world is filled with people who want to help other people.
USE ART AND PLAY TO COPE WITH HARD FEELINGS
Art has the power to express complicated feelings. Play is how children learn and process the world around them.
Though you may feel it’s tone-deaf to encourage and engage in art and play at this time, it is precisely the type of emotion-channeling activity that you and your child may need. You may be surprised what they say about challenging topics when they don’t have to use words.
ASK YOUR CHILD FOR IDEAS TO HELP
If your child is a little older, you may want to ask them for ideas to help a cause directly.If they are younger, they may see that you as a parent could use their ‘help.’
In either case, let them assist. This gives them a sense of empowerment, and actions from young people can make a significant impact on others.
OBSERVE AGGRESSIVE BEHAVIOR (GIVE OUTLETS)
Children might respond to the news with increased aggressive behavior in the play yard or home. Make sure to provide them with a safe outlet. Try rough and tumble play (with safe words and settings) or yoga to lower anxiety and aggression.
Kids will naturally categorize and play “bad guy, good guy.” For them, this makes sense as a first step to understanding right versus wrong.
But as adult role models, we know that the world is more complex. Be careful not to generalize people or countries involved as “bad vs. good” but instead focus on individuals’ actions, choices, and behaviors.
CHECK-IN ON FRIENDS DIRECTLY IMPACTED
Let your child know when you are checking in on friends or family directly impacted by global conflict or violence, show them how to have strong, caring relationships for others. This is the type of modeling that they will understand and relate to.
OTHER WAYS TO HELP CHILDREN DURING TIMES LIKE THESE:
Use puppets to talk about challenging issues.
Find books children’s books about peace and war.
Find a community or organization that is child friendly.