How to talk with young children about war
When my six years old daughter saw me tearing up viewing a triggering image on social media from the current war in Ukraine, my first tendency was to reassure her that everything is ok, “mommy is fine.” And then she said, “is it because of people fighting? I am sad too.” This caught me by surprise and right away I wanted to tell her that it’s all fine, it’s far away but then I paused.
This is a good time to remind ourselves that parents don’t have to have all the answers. Start by listening to spontaneous questions, asking what your children know about the war and assessing the feelings they may have.
Thinking through the questions first may be a great way to get all the facts you feel are appropriate to share, navigate the feelings that come from important discussions and to solidify the message that you want to send. For example, saying that the war is far away and we are safe or emphasizing the importance of helping others in crisis could be the focus points.
Children tend to look to their parents for a sense of security so it’s important to validate their feelings by having a calm and age-appropriate conversation. Don’t burden children with information for which they may not be ready as this can make children unnecessarily anxious. Consider limiting media exposure for young children or watch coverage with them to answer any questions that may arise. It’s also important to remind them that you will keep them safe and other adults are working on finding solutions to the conflict.
While there is no one size fits all strategy when supporting our children in coping with the potential confusion and anxieties that a warfare discussion entails, a “cool, calm and steady” approach of our children’s inquiries, discussion of appropriate facts and warm emotional support can make all the difference in helping you and your children manage this complicated subject together.
– Dr. Anna Mackender