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Talking To Our Kids About Ukraine and War

intentional parenting parenting tips raising kids Mar 09, 2022
Talking To Kids About War

As parents, do you want your kids to think that the world is safe and that bad things don’t happen?  Most parents want to protect their children for as long as possible and for babies and toddlers that is absolutely true.  With the war between Russia and Ukraine featured in every news channel, all over social media, and as the topic of many adult discussions, if your kids leave the house they are hearing about it.  And even though we want them to know that they’re safe, we also want to be the ones having these discussions with them because their imaginations can make it much bigger and they may have misconceptions about what is actually happening.

 So how do you have these conversations with your kids?

It starts with recognizing how you are feeling about it first.  Our kids are very tuned into the emotional states of those around them, and they sense when things aren’t right. As parents, when we are experiencing anxiety, worry or fear ourselves, we are significantly less likely to be able to calmly parent and communicate effectively. 

It’s okay to have strong feelings about current events, and it’s okay for our children to see our strong feelings, but we also want to show our children how we manage our strong feelings, and that we know how to take care of them and help them when they have strong feelings.

 One thing you can do to regulate your own emotions, is to put your hand on your heart, take a deep breath in through your nose for a count of four, and then breathe out through your mouth like you’re blowing through a straw for a count of eight.  Your hand on your heart will release oxytocin, and deep breaths help you calm down your nervous system.  Tune into the present, and remind your body that you are safe in this moment.

Another option is to keep up with the news through reading or listening instead of watching it on TV.  Studies have shown that visual images are much more impactful than reading or hearing for both adults and children.  There was research that came out after September 11th that showed that kids up to age 7 who saw repeated images on the news of the World Trade Center towers falling thought that they were falling every single time.  They were re-experiencing the trauma over and over again every time they saw it.  Consider consciously limiting what you are viewing about the war, and if you are going to watch the news, definitely make sure that your young ones aren’t around.

Once you have regulated your own emotions, then you can open up the conversation with your child.  You can start with a simple statement: You may have heard about what is going on in Ukraine. I’m curious about what you’ve heard and I want to answer any questions that you may have.  

Then PAUSE, and give your child some space to tell you what they know.  Any communication that you share you want to be as simple and to the point as possible: The leaders in Russia have invaded Ukraine.  When there is a war people can get hurt and killed, and that is what is happening.  I want you to know that you are safe, and we are safe, but we still care about other people even when they live far away which is why you’re seeing so many grown-ups that are sad and upset.

Once you share this information, again pause — It may seem like an uncomfortable silence, but you want to allow your child time to digest the information so wait until they say something or look to you to say something.  Depending on your child, they may or may not have anything to say.  Some may ask to go back to doing whatever they were doing before, and some may have a lot of questions.  Either response is okay.  What’s most important is that you tell them what’s going on so they aren’t picking up on the collective stress and anxiety without having us to support them.

If your child does have questions or is repeating misinformation, try to stick to age appropriate facts and only answer the questions that they ask.  Resist going into longer explanations.  We are hearing terms like World War 3 and nuclear war in the news, but unless your child brings it up you don’t want to make things bigger or scarier than we have to.  You want to just address what’s going on, and let them know that they can come talk to you about any questions that they may have.

And if you can’t answer a question, just acknowledge that you don’t know.  If it’s something that you can look up, you can let them know you will find out or you can research it to find out together.  But if they ask a question for which there is no answer, be honest.  We will all be faced with situations in life for which there is no easy answer.  Acknowledging that there is no easy answer to your child provides an opportunity for both of you to practice dealing with the discomfort of uncertainty.

Let’s face it — our brains don’t like uncertainty.  We are genetically wired to avoid danger, and look for safety and predictability because that is what kept our ancestors alive and what was programmed into our genes.  When we are experiencing uncertainty, our brains interpret that as danger which makes us feel afraid and anxious.  But remember, fear and anxiety will keep you stuck and you can’t parent calmly or effectively when you are anxious and afraid.

So when you find yourself going down negative thought spirals which increase your worry and anxiety, go back to step 1.   Put your hand on your heart, take a deep breath in through your nose for a count of four, and then breathe out through your mouth like you’re blowing through a straw for a count of eight.  Tune into the present, and remind your body that you are safe in this moment.

And if you want or need more help, please reach out to learn more about my Parenting from Neutral program.  Think about how you parent when you are overwhelmed, anxious, afraid, or frustrated — and imagine how feeling calm, confident and in-control would change things for you and your kids.  That’s the work that I do with my clients, and I can help you get there too.

Go to melpeirce.com to learn more, or schedule a free call here. 

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