How to Talk to Your Children About the Crisis in Ukraine
“Trust your gut, give yourself some grace if you do or say the wrong thing. The most important thing to remember is that your presence and willingness to listen is ultimately what your child is needing the most.”
The war and invasion of Ukraine has raised concerns for people of all ages and children can be very receptive to what's going on around them. The crisis can be a lot to take in, mentally and emotionally.
“Children are searching for their own understanding and making sense of the world they live in,” said family therapist Chris J. Gilbert, M.Ed, LPC, CCLS.
Parents may be wondering how to talk to their child and how to best support them. The most important thing is every child is unique and has different needs, Gilbert says.
“You are your children’s best expert,” Gilbert said. “Trust your gut, give yourself some grace if you do or say the wrong thing. The most important thing to remember is that your presence and willingness to listen is ultimately what your child is needing the most.”
Watching the news
Gilbert said to be mindful of what you’re watching on the news and where you’re watching it because children are very receptive to what they hear and see.
“If they do show interest in staying informed, I would say watching the news with them is OK and to give them perspective to what is occurring," he said.
Gilbert said parents can also watch the news ahead of time, record it and rewatch it with them later. This allows parents to provide highlights and manage how much news they are taking in.
He suggested limiting the access of things that your child sees on social media.
“Parents, be available for questions and allow time for questions,” he said. “Do your best to provide information and know that some of those questions you won’t have answers to. It’s OK to say ‘I don’t know.’ It’s also OK if they are not interested or don’t show interest.”
Parents, stay calm because children are very receptive to emotional and nonverbal cues.
“When having conversations, always attempt to validate feelings,” Gilbert said. “Feelings of anxiety and sadness are normal. Provide an environment of safety and allow them to share what they are feeling. Reflect what you heard and give them the space to share."
Kids may be seeing images and videos of the refugees fleeing Ukraine and feel sad or uneasy.
“Validate that, say ‘that’s horrific,” Gilbert said. “Allow them to vent and share their own frustrations and reflect that back.”
No one emotion/feeling is right or wrong, everyone perceives what is going on differently and processes in their own way.
He said adults can’t always put answers to their questions, but it’s important to validate your child’s feelings.
Turn to action
Anxiety and worries about the unknown can be paralyzing. Turn those fears and angst into actions, he said.
“Families can brainstorm together for ways to help,” Gilbert said.
Some ways are:
- Donating to charity
- Writing letters to potential refugees
- Use your faith and pray with your children for the needs of others
All of this allows a sense of ownership, control, predictability and a healthy outlet which is something all kids need and frankly what we all could benefit from.
Parents, take care of yourself
“As for parents, I would recommend on relying on your own support systems as well as community support systems to work through your own fears and uncertainties about current events,” he said. “Allowing yourself these outlets provides you the best opportunity to be the most present and comforting to your own family and children.”