Supporting Children to manage anxiety over war, conflict and crises
It feels like a very dark time in our world right now, and I am sure that as I do, you will be reaching out as much as you can in an evolving mixture of despair, empathy and hope for the plight of the Ukrainian population. I am also aware, as I write, that many of our Gesher families and staff will have close links with their own familial histories in Eastern Europe.
So how should we as parents and teachers talk to children about the conflict should the discussion arise?
Give children the basics and don’t avoid the conversation
The information that happens around children is as important as what is said to them; many are likely to pick up on snippets of news from the TV, social media, or discussions around them. As adults we can provide a supportive framework to discuss the conflict with sensitively worded honesty and clarity.
It is important that we do not assume we know what the children want to know. We need to provide a platform where children feel they can ask the questions they want to know. It is OK to say that we don’t have the answers right now, too. It is important to use child friendly language and imagery that is not overly graphic, prejudiced, or disturbing, and sometimes just writing a brief script with ideas on a discussion beforehand can be both supportive and calming.
If your child feels anxious, it is important that you work to keep calm, try to ensure your tone is quiet and measured and if it feels too much for you, take a break.
Sometimes writing or drawing can be helpful for wellbeing, to keep a written or audio record of worries, it is something you as a parent or child can refer back to.
Try to manage your own feelings
It is important to recognise where you are emotionally when discussing the war. It is ok to be reflective with your child but if you feel that you are too upset, try to find time to regulate yourselves too. This is crucial since your child will also begin to absorb the sense of fear and be sensitive to your reactions.
If you notice that it is emotionally triggering for you or detrimental to your mental health, then try and take a break from watching/reading the news and politely tell friends and family it is not something you feel in a good place to discuss right now. It is okay to look after yourself and it does not make you a bad person to acknowledge this. Feelings of helplessness are also very prevalent right now as watch the events unfold overseas, so it can sometimes be helpful to look for relevant charities that can be contacted who will offer ideas as to how support can be given (i.e. financial donations, letters to MPs, care packages, etc.).
Look for the Helpers
In times of war and trauma, there will always be helpers. It is crucial that whilst we discuss that terrible things can happen in the world we can always find some way to help and humanity has a wonderful way of reaching out. Be very clear with your children that helpers will be on the ground in the warring country and also support is being offered from around the world.
Avoid exposure to a constant stream of news
Be mindful of whether you have the TV or radio on increasingly as children will be absorbing the news, often without us realising it. Try to build in breaks from the news (for example when collecting your child and being aware of the radio on in the car), thus breaking away from the constant exposure to worrying and frightening news cycles.
Watch where your child is getting their news
Many of our children have access to the internet and we are aware that without realising they can be exposed to fake news. Try to ensure that your child understands that everything they see on social media is not true and that they know reliable sources of news to consider. First News and The Week Junior alongside Newsround are excellent and considered resources to use.
I hope these pointers offer some support and as ever if you have concerns please do reach out to us at school.