If your impulse is to want to shy away from talking to your kids about this on top of everything else, you're not alone. You may even feel confident that your child hasn't heard about the war.
If they're young enough, that might be true. But for the majority of our kids, the reality is that they already know. And much of what they know you may or not be aware of - whether it's from scrolling on social media, talking to their friends, or watching videos online. They may also tune in if you have the news or radio on in the background during carpool or at home.
Some may ask questions simply out of curiosity while others may not seem interested. Others may express fear and deep concerns over worrying memes they've seen on TikTok. And then there are those who are part of a growing number of teens who want to be activists.
1. Meet them where they are. If they ask questions, move onto step 2. If they don't, pay attention to their behaviors. If you notice changes in their eating habits, if they're having trouble sleeping or wake up frequently, or if they're more withdrawn and regularly complain of physical pains such as stomachaches, they may be feeling anxious.
And given how much information is out there, wouldn't your child benefit most if you asked them what they know and how they feel in a supportive, loving space with you?
Not knowing only heightens anxiety levels for many children. Here are a few ways to invite them into the conversation in age- and stage-appropriate ways that will empower (rather than terrify) them.
1. Ask them what they know.
This will help you learn what information is missing or incorrect so you can try to give them a more accurate understanding of the situation. It's also a nice entry point for the conversation because it's pretty straight forward and doesn't immediately force them to share their feelings.
2. Let them know what they're feeling is okay.
Some kids feel pressure to act or feel a certain way because of peer or parental pressure. It's important to reassure them that all of their feelings are valid - even if they're conflicting, confusing or scary. Emphasize that you're there to listen and support them, not judge.
3. Find ways to help.
Ask your child what they'd like to do to help. When kids are able to help others, they feel empowered. It gives them a sense of agency, which can help alleviate some of their fears and comfort them.
A small gesture such as taking a few moments together to send warm thoughts or wishes of safety and health to Ukrainian families (and all families suffering from conflict and crisis around the world) can help them feel a little bit better knowing they're doing something to help. Here are some other ideas:
Take a few moments each day to send wishes of health and safety to Ukrainian families (through any contemplation practices you choose)
Donate to an organization supporting Ukrainian families and surrounding countries
Learn more by visiting some of the best news sources for kids
Host a fundraiser (like a bake sale or car wash) and send the proceeds to Ukrainian families
Write a letter to someone in the military or a Ukrainian family
4. Give Them an Extra Squeeze (or Two)
Whether you give them a hug, kiss or cuddle after the conversation or simply remind them they're not alone, try to give them a sense of security and safety. Reassure them you are there to keep them safe and that many adults are working very hard to help families in need (Ukrainians and all of the other families living in conflict and crisis).
It’s easy to want to avoid the topic of the war in Ukraine, particularly with all of the other challenges the world is (and your family may be) facing. But knowing they can come to you for love and support in any crisis or whenever they feel powerful emotions is a gift that will last a lifetime.
Photo credit: James Beck/BristolLive