Unfortunately, as much as we would love to protect our kids from ever having to deal with upsetting news, it just isn’t possible. The reality is, bad things are going to happen and how you show up for your kids in these situations can really matter.
For the last several years, there has been no shortage of scary things to deal with. A worldwide pandemic, escalating global environmental problems, out-of-control inflation, and now a violent conflict and humanitarian crisis in Ukraine. Most adults are struggling with their own levels of stress and anxiety, so, it goes without saying that our kids are feeling it too.
There are some really great strategies you can use to minimize the negative effects and to leave your children feeling safe and reassured. First of all, and maybe most obvious, keep the news off around the kids. There is no need to have it running in the background, as it can only serve to escalate scared feelings. Secondly, if your child raises a concern about the situation, ask questions. Specifically, try to find out what they already know or think they know and then what are their specific worries. This way you won’t be giving information they aren’t asking for and may not be ready to hear. You can base what you share on how they respond to your questions. Next, be careful not to minimize your child’s concerns or brush them aside with a comment like, “There’s nothing to worry about,” or “It’s all going to be fine.” Kids are smarter and understand way more than we think. These types of comments, while well-intended, only serve to make the child feel more alone and afraid. Instead, it is totally fine to acknowledge and empathize with their feelings. “It can feel scary to hear about war, it makes me feel worried too sometimes.” This normalizes how they are feeling, lets them know you get it, and that they are not alone.
Finally, and maybe most importantly, focus on the good. As Mr. Rogers so famously said, “Look for the helpers.” There is an abundance of “good news” stories around this conflict. People all over the world are banding together to help the people of Ukraine, donating food, clothing, shelter, and money. Find these stories and share them with your child. A powerful next step would be to help them find a way to help too. Look for a reputable organization to support, and brainstorm with your child ways that they might help out. They might organize a bake sale, lemonade stand, fun run, or other event that could raise money to be donated, or collect needed items with a group of friends. There are lots of options! Taking a positive action step will help your child to feel some sense of control and peace while living in a world that can feel the opposite sometimes.