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Validate how kids are feeling and help them understand that how they feel is OK—everyone has big emotions, especially now.
As a world, we have been living through frightening days for years. But last week with the news from Ukraine, the world grew very dark. As adults, we are struggling ourselves to make sense of this time and to stave off our own worries and anxieties. So how do we help our kids get their heads around the fears, anxiety, uncertainty and unpredictability, once again? How do we have the important conversations to help them not let scary days overwhelm their world?
Of course, our first instinct is to shield our kids from anything and everything scary. Kids, however, pick up everything that surrounds them — and not just from older sibs, friends, newsfeeds, and social media. They are tuning into our worries and stress as well. Together, we can work through not only our children’s confusion and worries, but also our own.
● Start with you! Be sure you are putting your own stress-house in order by becoming aware of and dealing with your own anxiety, worries and fears. This way, you can approach your child in a calm and focused manner, and be better available to help kids deal with their concerns.
● Begin having conversations — however small, but purposeful — encouraging children to talk about what they have seen and heard, and how they are feeling. Be open and inviting. Be honest about how you feel about the news. It is ok to be confused and wonder why things happen. Be mindful and informed about the information you are sharing, sifting misinformation and hearsay from accurate facts. Identifying where the information is coming from, and helping your child to do the same, will help you answer questions responsibly and empathically.
● Provide developmentally appropriate answers (“sometimes we don’t like what happens in the world”). Don’t overload them, or yourself, with info. Remember less is more, and don’t become overly detailed and descriptive with details.
● Take the lead from where kids are, mentally, and what they are ready to take in. It is ok not to have answers. But keep the conversational door open, addressing things as they arise and checking in with your kids as events evolve. Give kids facts and context without judgment.
● Validate how kids are feeling, and help them understand that how they feel is ok. Everyone has emotions, especially now.
● Reassurance is key. Help children to know that there is good in the world; Mister Rogers always said, “When something scary is happening, look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” Showing children all the people working to help and reading about organizations and heroes provides reassurance.
● Help kids to find ways they can help. There is agency and empowerment in coming up with and participating in solutions. Providing children with opportunities to feel that they can be helpful also allows them to develop kindness and empathy. Ask children to think about how they might be helpful — let creativity take hold here, from artwork and letter writing to fundraising on the front lawn, raising donations to help children just like them in Ukraine. Some organizations doing important work in the region include UNHCR, International Rescue Committee, Voices of Children, Care, World Central Kitchen.
● Times like these can be an opportunity to discuss conflicts and how children can learn to problem-solve when conflict arises in their world. Learning to understand the perspective, emotions, and experiences of others builds empathy.
● Limit news exposure, but don’t avoid what is happening. Point to maps to help kids see where the conflict is happening, and help them learn about Ukraine’s culture and history. Point to the heroes.
● You are the beacon: model how best to handle these stressful days, where you can make a difference and how you can maintain a positive attitude. Take walks together, watch a silly movie read a book together, make comfort foods… and be sure to take care of you!
● For additional resources visit Common Sense Media: explaining the news to our kids