Our hearts are heavy hearing and reading about everything that is happening in Ukraine and Russia. As a parent or caregiver, it is difficult to know how to help your child navigate feelings of fear, anxiety, and stress when it's hard enough to process our own emotions about what we see and hear in the news. In today's blog post, we want to help by providing some tips and resources on things you and your children can do to cope with ongoing tension in the world.
Here are some tips on how to approach a conversation with your child about conflict and war to provide them with support and comfort:
Start with an invitation. Ask if they want to talk about it or what they have seen or heard. This can let your child or teen know you are listening and let them choose what they are ready for. Invite asking each other questions and notice if you or they need a break if it is getting stressful.
Provide information safely by limiting or guiding social media and TV news exposure. Teach older children and teens to check for accuracy.
@ChildLifeMommy who is a fellow child life specialist in the community provides great examples of keywords and events to help explain.
Validate feelings. This means letting someone know what they feel is real, and it makes sense that they feel that way. Repeated exposure to things that are graphic or traumatic, even if not in-person can cause similar feelings (learn about vicarious trauma and resilience).
Provide Reassurance. Children always look to their parents for a sense of safety and security. Talk about what your family and country do to protect each other.
VeryWellMind provides a great summary of these tips here.
Debriefing with Empathy
Since you've started talking maybe you are finding that there is empathy growing in you and your child. Empathy is what gives you a sense of connection to another person and what they experience. Some people say it leads them to "feel moved with compassion" for another person. Compassion means taking action because you care. This is a powerful part of our finding meaning in and adapting to hard times. So how do you show your support for people in another country who are in times of war? How do you cope with big feelings like empathy mixed with fear or stress?
Create un-structured art opportunities, like having plain paper and crayons, markers, watercolor paints, etc. with no instructions for the child. This allows for self-expression and can be a calming process.
Share meaningful artwork that shows your care. Artists around the world right now are making pictures of sunflowers, the national flower of Ukraine, to show that they want #peaceforukraine. You can join in with these free coloring sheets created just for you from Hearts Connected child life specialist Anna Fowler. Encourage creativity in coloring, besides filling in lines, e.g., adding supportive or inspiring words and messages around the picture:
Detailed coloring page
Basic coloring page
Gain a sense of personal empowerment by learning about peace-making and conflict resolution skills.
Here are some practical ways to support people in Ukraine as listed by NPR.
Lastly, here is some recommended reading if you have direct communication with children from or in war torn areas or who are refugees: Healing the Children of War: A Handbook for Ministry to Children who Have Suffered Deep Traumas. Phyllis Kilbourn, editor. 1995. ISBN 0912552875, 9780912552873