War breaks out in Ukraine as Russia invades!
How to help your children & talk to them about Violence & War!
Contributed by: Becky J. Wolery, PsyD
Recent findings: "Children's contact with media coverage of war is pervasive and is associated with numerous outcomes and with their parents' reactions. Younger children are more affected by news stories with visual cues, while older children are more distressed by stories about actual threat." (1)
Don't let your children be a victim of vicarious trauma by continually exposing them to traumatic events. Vicarious traumatization is a negative reaction to trauma exposure and includes a range of psychosocial symptoms. Children especially may exhibit symptoms such as emotional reactivity, irritability, outbursts, aggressiveness, sleeplessness, distractibility, clinging behavior, fear of being along, eating more/less, worrying, feeling vulnerable or helpless, somatic symptoms (stomach aches/headaches), bedwetting, nightmares, and tension or fighting in relationships (siblings/friends/parents). It is not possible to protect children from all exposures of violence or war events. The following guidelines can help minimize the risk to your children. Seek professional help if your child begins to exhibit some of the symptoms above.
What can you do to help!
1. Avoid exposure to horrific news and pictures and minimize the amount of exposure of general news about the events. i.e. young children exposed repetitively to the twin towers falling in the 9-11 attack in U.S. thought the attacks kept happening over and over again.
2. Identify a time and place for your children to talk and ask questions. Let them know their questions and concerns are very important. Don't force children to talk about things if they are not ready. Some children will simply want to be children by playing and ignoring the problems which can help them feel safe or cope better.
2. Provide re-assurance that your family is safe, but don't make unrealistic promises. Young children up to middle school age may believe that the violence or attacks are happening near them and they may be next.
3. In communicating, use words and concepts your child understands. Use explanations appropriate to your child's age and ability to understand. Avoid telling them to much information.
4. Ask children of all ages, what they are hearing and what they have seeing on Television or social media. Take time to listen to what they know. Appease their concerns and take them seriously by trying to understand what they are experiencing. Don't confront your child's way of handling the experience. Some children may be more curious than concerned.
4. Provide age appropriate education based on facts and the context of the situation. Give honest answers. Teach older children that information is often limited or unknown and politically complicated. Teach them how to check the facts and create awareness of how the media/social media is often missing information or purposefully misleading.
5. Avoid labeling or stereotyping groups (good guys vs bad guys). A young child that is told they are being bad may think they are a bad guy. Use the actual names of the groups.
6. Encourage them to continue to talking and be willing to repeat answers and conversations if needed to provide understanding and reassurance.
7. Ask what they are thinking and feeling. Provide support and acknowledge their thoughts, feelings and reactions. Address their negative emotions by normalizing their feelings (You may feel the same way). Telling them if you are feeling worried or anxious can normalize their feelings. Avoid telling them all your worries and concerns. We should be reassuring them instead of them re-assuring us. Be mindful that young children may not be able to identify their feelings but may act-out instead.
8. Set an example. Children often listen to adult conversations even if you don't think so. Children learn from watching family, friends, and teachers. Be mindful of what you are saying and how they may interpret it.
How to further help!
1. Maintain or establish daily routines and schedules to provide normalcy and reassurance.
2. Provide positive distractions- fun family outings, playing games, one on one time!
3. Help them process their feelings through play, art, poems, or stories.
4. Talk to teachers or other caregivers and ask them to limit conversation and exposure to the events. Provide them information about your child's struggles and how they can best help.
5. Take positive action together, if appropriate. i.e. write letters to soldiers, make care packages for children, create hygiene kits or make blankets to send.
6. Help them understand healthy ways to resolve conflicts through communication.
7. Contact a professional counselor if needed.
How to help children with military families or family overseas.
1. Help children express their feelings and their very real concerns about the safety of their family.
2. Help children with frequently contacting family by calling, video, letters, texting or emails. This will help them feel more secure and connected to the absent family member.