Children need to feel safe and listened to. How we should talk to them about the war

The world as we knew it 3-4 years ago no longer exists and certainly, it will never come back. In this context we may want to protect our children from the violence that is happening these days, but we cannot. They will learn about it from colleagues, from the news or from conversations we have with other adults. So it would be best for them to find out from us, the adults, what is happening. It is important to communicate with our children in an honest and open manner and at their level, and not to make this war a forbidden or a taboo subject; otherwise we will create confusion and anxiety in their minds and souls.

How we’ve approached it at ISO

We have chosen not to approach the subject except in those situations when the kids openly ask us questions about the war. This is how we know that we have managed to create a framework of trust where children feel free to come to us for support. On the other hand, in these moments our role as a school is to continue our usual activities while pursueing the learning objectives already established, offering security, clarity and certainty to our students. We don’t know what will come over us tomorrow, but at ISO we know with clarity what we will talk about tomorrow in Science or Maths.

How you might approach the subject as parents

As parents, when the child asks you about the war, the first step would be to ask them what they have already heard and how they feel about it. The child needs to feel listened to and understood. Also, we advise you not to volunteer more details than what they already know. Yes, we can answer the child’s questions – we all know the “Why is that?” stage – but we should be as brief as possible and with as little emotional implications.

Another important aspect is to differentiate between how you communicate with a young child, say 8-9 years of age, and how you talk to the older ones. The discussion about the situation in Ukraine should be approached differently depending on the child’s ability to understand. A young child who likes to play with tin soldiers will find it interesting that there is a real war going on. A 10-year-old child may become worried and anxious because they might be wondering if they will any longer be able to go to school or go out and play. Your answer to the question why Russia attacked Ukraine should vary with their age.

In our oppinion, these questions could provide a parallel opportunity to talk about bullying or conflict somewhere else, for example at school. When you provide explanation use elements of their daily life. There is nothing beneficial in telling them about people who are suffering, who are dying, about destroyed buildings, or people having to leave their homes. On the other hand, you can give a 10-year-old a bit more details, and teach them how to focus on what we can control versus what we cannot control. We cannot control what is happening in Ukraine, but we can control how we act on it. For instance, we can support refugees through donations. We can also control the way we feel: we are aware that we are sad, but we are not paniking, because we cannot predict what will happen in the future. It is more beneficial for us to continue our daily activities than to live in fear for what it might happen next.

In the opinion of our teachers, we should protect our children these days from the images shown in mass media as much as we can. Saadet Dündar is recommending to tell your children about the war in the most objective possible way and to choose your words carefully: “Explain what a war is, how you get to war,  what you can do before getting to war. Try not to take sides or blame people or political leaders. ”

What we could do as adults

We as adults should also pay close attention to how the news affects us. It is normal to be afraid under these circumstances, but it is useless to let fear overwhelm us and dictate our outcomes. It is normal to be sad, but it does not help to be driven by sadness and anxiety. To our children we represent security and love. If you as parents are emotionally unavailable for them, this can even affect their school performance.

In addition to keeping calm, it is important that you continue your daily activities by always being there. If it helps, then maybe you need to come up with a plan B and take some safety measures. Otherwise, it is important to focus on the things you can control. And to enjoy your daily life.

Photo source: Facebook/UNICEFRomania

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