FOR two years our children have listened to talk about a pandemic. Now they hear of war in Ukraine, atrocities and nuclear weapons.
Kids as young as ten are seeing videos on social media about the conflict, and children’s aid organisation Unicef says three-quarters of youngsters feel unable to judge if what they’re viewing is accurate.
This Morning presenter Holly Willoughby shared an image from the war-stricken country on Instagram, saying how she has struggled to explain recent events to her three young children.
Family support worker Megan Wright, of charity Action For Children’s Parent Talk service, and psychologist Emma Kenny, share tips with Claire Dunwell on how best to approach the issue.
Try sideways listening
WHILE young children are likely to be open about things that are troubling them, teenagers often are not.
Megan says: “It’s about spotting clues in your child’s character. A young child who is worried about the conflict might all of a sudden ask you for reassurance, perhaps with questions like, ‘Are we OK?’ or, ‘Are we safe?’
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“Older ones, on the other hand, might withdraw, have trouble sleeping or spend longer than usual in their room.
“To encourage children and teens to talk, reflect back with open-ended questions such as, ‘I’ve noticed you did this/said that. Is there something worrying you?’
“For teens, a great technique is ‘sideways listening’, which is about avoiding eye contact while talking about a difficult subject.
“If you’re side by side in the car or doing something else at the same time, looking for casual, passing opportunities to talk can help your teenager feel more comfortable about sharing their worries with you.”
Tell them it’s OK to feel worried
ACKNOWLEDGING your child’s concerns, and your own, is important in order to encourage openness.
Emma says: “Do not avoid hard questions, even if you may wish to.
“Talking about death, particularly after the past two years, is something most of us understandably wish to avoid, but children need to understand why war happens and why innocent people are affected.”
Megan adds: “Saying things like, ‘When I was watching the news today I felt sad’ provides an opening for your child to talk about what is on their mind.
Reassure them that it’s all right to feel worried. Talk, too, about your own concerns and, importantly, things you do to make yourself feel better in stressful situations.
“Whether it’s going for a walk or having a bath, showing your children how you relax, especially during stressful times, is good.”
Do not avoid hard questions, even if you may wish to. Talking about death, particularly after the past two years, is something most of us understandably wish to avoid, but children need to understand why war happens and why innocent people are affected.
Psychologist Emma Kenny
Set boundaries together
MEGAN says: “Teenagers are inquisitive but if your child is scrolling through social media or news sites and seeing images excessively, it’s understandably going to increase their anxiety.
“Ask them to give you feedback on how it makes them feel when they see images — and if they’re overwhelmed, involve them in setting boundaries about when and how often they look.
“Banning access to what’s going on around them is not always ideal, because not knowing what is happening in a situation is often worse than knowing.”
Be aware of what they see online
MUCH of what tweens and teenagers know about the conflict comes from TikTok, Snapchat or Instagram.
They can stumble across images of tanks, or propaganda, which are doctored.
Megan says: “You can’t control the news but you and your child can control where you get the information from.
“Ensure that it’s based on fact — CBBC’s Newsround is always an excellent resource for younger viewers.”
Emma says: “If you pay their mobile phone and internet provider bills then you have a right to spot-check the sites that they are visiting.
“It doesn’t need to be heavy-handed — I suggest that you sit down together so they can show you what they are looking at and the information that they believe is trustworthy.
“This means you can weed out misinformation and help them become more discerning in the sites that they trust.”
Set worry time
MEGAN says: “It’s natural to worry, but not all the time. Spending at least five minutes with your child at roughly the same time each day talking through their worries is a good idea — but don’t leave it until too close to bedtime because it could disrupt their sleep.
“And problem-solve with them — talk about coping skills and plan something nice for afterwards. To alter the mood, say something like, ‘We’ve talked about worries, now we will do something nice.’ Maybe suggest reading a book or watching TV?”
You can’t control the news but you and your child can control where you get the information from. Ensure that it’s based on fact — CBBC’s Newsround is always an excellent resource for younger viewers.
Family support worker Megan Wright
Encourage them to be proactive
MEGAN says: “Signposting children to the positives in an awful situation — such as countries rallying around in support of Ukraine, or funds set up to help those in need — can help them feel more in control in a very out-of-control situation.”
Emma adds that encouraging children to get involved in an act of kindness is a good idea.
She says: “It can really help to discuss a way for them to take an active role in the events that are playing out.
“Helping them to think about inventive ways to fundraise for those affected by the war won’t just encourage pro-social behaviour, it will also help them feel a new level of positive control over their environment.”
Offset playground gossip
NEVER assume kids won’t talk about what they hear and see.
Megan says: “Just because a child in the playground said, ‘World War Three has begun’, remind yours what is true and what isn’t.
“For younger children it might be as simple as sitting down with a world map and showing them where the conflict is happening.
“Talk to your children’s school, too. They know your child and should be able to spot any changes in behaviour which might signal they are struggling with what’s going on, so you can act to support them.”
Emma adds: “Talk about your own parents and grandparents and what their experiences of past wars were.
“This can help anchor a child’s worries. Knowing that others have lived through challenging times and are still here to tell the tale can help them to find perspective.”
It can really help to discuss a way of them taking an active role in the events playing out. Helping them to think about inventive ways to fundraise for those affected by the war won’t just encourage pro-social behaviour, it will also help them feel a level of positive control.
Family support worker Megan Wright
Stick to a routine
MEGAN explains: “If your child is going to bed at the same time each night, seeing their friends at school or eating the same food for dinner, they will feel reassured.
It tells them that nothing that is happening in the world right now directly impacts them.
Sticking to a child’s routine is especially important during times of uncertainty because they know what to expect, which helps them to feel secure.”
Beware little ears
IF one minute you are reassuring your children everything is OK and the next they hear you telling a friend you’re anxious, it’s confusing for them.
Megan says: “They won’t know how to feel if they hear you saying something different to what you’ve told them.
“Be mindful of who is listening when you’re having adult conversation — even when you think they are in bed upstairs or out of earshot.
“If you are overheard and caught out, explain to your child that it’s your job to look after them, and try to reassure them that parents worry about things in different ways to children.”
- For more support on this issue, see parents.actionforchildren.org.uk