When news of global conflicts hits the headline, it can cause many big feelings such as fear, anger, anxiety and sadness in both young and old. In the world of uncertainty, parents may instinctively protect children from negativity and bad news. But experts agree that it is best to address the harsh reality of events than shield the children to help them grow up as thoughtful global citizens.
How and when should parents approach the conversation with their child on the difficult topic? We share tips to navigate discussion with children in a respectful and reassuring manner.
Listen to what your child has to say
Give your child the space to share what they know, heard and saw. Let them know that they are in a safe space and have the freedom to express themselves, their theories and reflections. When children raise points for discussion, it shows it is on their minds, and they would like our help to process and make sense of the world around them in an age-appropriate way. When they are sharing, listen intently without judgement and show them that you are giving them your full attention. If your child does not wish to talk, respect that. You can always visit the topic when they are ready.
It is important to have an open and honest conversation as it helps to model taking a compassionate view of the world. A good starting point for the conversation is to learn about what they know, their feelings and curiosity. You can uncover their ideas and thinking by asking questions like 'what do you think about [the conflict]' and 'what do you want to know?'. This provides you with an excellent opportunity to clear up misconceptions that they might have and share facts and context.
Children may not fully understand the meaning of conflict. For young children, you can explain that "they are fighting, it is sad that they are not using words". For older children, you can share more details in a logical manner, "There have been some misunderstandings, they are fighting, but there are lots of helpful people with great communication skills helping with peace talks".
Let them ask questions. Do your best to answer their questions and be honest with them. It is OK if you do not have all of the answers. You can invite them to find answers from trusted news sources together.
Validate their feelings and concerns
Children understand and react to unsettling events differently, depending on their developmental age and experiences. It is important not to downplay or dismiss their concerns. Acknowledge their feelings with empathy, and assure them that what they are feeling is natural. Be calm and sensitive to their emotional responses. For example, if your child is scared, you can respond by saying, "It is a scary time, I know. It is OK to feel scared. You are safe here, and I will always be here for you.".
A concern that children might have is worrying about their safety. You can discuss where the conflict is happening with your child and reassure them that they are safe within their community. If they have other concerns, find out where is their worry from. When you understand their worry, you are more likely to address and reassure them.
It is also important to know that your child looks to you for emotional guidance and observes your emotional cues. Be mindful of your body language and tone of voice during the discussion.
Take cues from your child. If your child is uncomfortable expressing their feelings or unable to put their feelings into words, you can invite them to write stories, draw or role-play. These indirect ways of communicating can offer you a window into what they are experiencing. Pay attention to their non-verbal language of expressing fear, anxiety and other big feelings. Have they become extra clingy, often act out or have been experiencing sleep disturbances? If you notice signs of distress, invite them to voice their feelings, give them extra hugs and kisses to increase their sense of security or seek professional help if needed.
Reassure your child that they are safe
Reassure your child that they are in a safe environment and not in harm. Remind them that you are always there to support and help them work through their feelings, and they can always talk to you.
It is important to let them know that many people in the world are trying to mitigate the situation and help each other with kindness and generosity. You can share stories of people and organisations such as families providing shelter to refugees, UNICEF and the Red Cross on their support for affected children and families.
In stressful times, sticking to routines can be comforting for children and bring a sense of normality. You can work with your child on the schedules and keep to it as much as possible. Spending extra time with your family, doing family activities, or holding them close can also reassure your child as it creates a safe emotional environment.
Support them to cope with their feelings and offer ways to take action
Check in with your child time and again to see how they are doing. Be ready to talk to them and address any concerns whenever they bring up the subject. For children who are feeling overwhelmed, here are some strategies to support your child's well-being:
- Practice mindfulness meditation: teach your child to take deep breaths and tune in to the rhythm of the inhale and exhale.
- Get moving: physical activities release endorphins which help to boost children's moods and regulate emotions. You can invite your child to do many forms of exercises, e.g. going for a walk or run, doing simple yoga exercises, or dancing to upbeat music.
- Model calm behaviour: children learn and imitate behaviours through observation. When you are feeling upset or anxious, demonstrate pausing, walking away and calming yourself down by doing breathing exercises.
- Encourage your child to do activities that they enjoy: it could be reading a favourite book, drawing, playing a game, etc. Engaging in things that they like helps soothe and calm them down.
- Limit screen time: Unplug your child from constantly being bombarded by breaking news and updates, especially an hour before bedtime. Replace screen time with quality time as a family or spend more time trying out new hobbies.
You can also use this opportunity to teach your child how to spread compassion and kindness to promote peace by sharing the different ways they can help. Offer them opportunities to take solidarity with the affected children and families. For example, write a message of peace and hope or support fundraising events.
As the saying goes, a small act of kindness goes a long way. If you and your child would like to provide humanitarian aid to the affected families and children in crisis, here is a list of organisations you can check out and support together: