Everyone is impacted by war – maybe it’s a private war or maybe it’s a world war.
Today, I see on the international news that Russia bombed a maternity hospital in Ukraine. Bodies are left lying in streets. Images of crying children are everywhere, including one of a small child, maybe 4 years old, just wailing as he walks down the street by himself.
Our family has also had times (more than one, sadly), where we needed to share news of the death of one of their sisters. Maybe you’ve experienced that too, or the death of a grandparent, loss of a friend or any number of sad possibilities.
When news is heavy for you, how do you share it with children, while also processing your own emotions?
Each child is unique, so consider these flexible guidelines as you talk with your children.
- Be honest about what happened/is happening
- Be age appropriate. Your teenager can understand a lot more nuance than your 4-year-old.
- Use real words – death and dying, for example, rather than “went away” or even “went to heaven. In their world, if someone went to heaven, they can come back.
- Don’t over-complicate it, either. Your ten-year-old probably isn’t ready for a discussion on international relations and foreign policy theories. Come to think of it, who really is??
- Be prepared to answer their questions. If you don’t know, tell them you don’t know. Maybe you can find out together. Maybe there’s no real answer.
- Respect their ability to cope but also don’t let them “work it out on their own” for too long.
- Provide reassurance.
- Understand that children grieve differently than adults. Fear, grief and anxiety might manifest themselves as acting out behaviors, like wetting the bed, throwing toys, having tantrums, etc. It’s ok. And, it’s ok for you to say “I know you’re sad/scared/worried – so am I.”
- Moderate news exposure. Too much can be overwhelming and depressing, but a total news blackout at home will lead to them getting information elsewhere.
- Expect to repeat yourself with explanations and reassurances. It’s not a one-and-done.
- Encourage your children – and maybe yourself! – to process through play and through art.
- Focus on the helpers and figure out how to be the helper.
- Take positive actions together, whether that is collecting donations for Ukraine or working on a quilt of grandpa’s ties or any number of possibilities.
I know that helping kids process hard stuff is made extra hard when you have your own processing to do. Do what you need for your own self-care – cry in the shower, journal, eat healthy food, eat junk food, talk to other adults to do your own processing. You need to be there for your children and I’m of the belief that the best way to do that is to be there for yourself too.