“I’m worried about how we can survive, especially if the Russians use nuclear weapons.”
That’s the fear one 13-year-old boy voiced during an NSPCC counselling session, helping children understand Russian president Vladimir Putin’s war on Ukraine.
News bulletins about the war in Ukraine can be distressing for children[/caption]
One charity has revealed children are worried about war and nuclear weapons[/caption]
The lad, who has not been named, also feared there could be a “third world war” and was concerned that if nuclear weapons were used, the “radiation can kill us as it can be picked up by wind”.
Distressing and heartbreaking footage from Ukraine is difficult enough for adults to watch, but young children and teenagers can find it particularly confusing and scary.
The NSPCC revealed that, since January, young people have been sharing their concerns on the conflict via their helpline, Childline.
As well the possibility of World War and nuclear weapons, the charity revealed young people are worried about attacks on the UK, fear of dying and losing loved ones, concern for family and friends living in Ukraine or serving in the Army and fears of not being taken seriously by parents, carers and teachers.
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Psychologist Emma Kenny said that, coming after two years of anxiety about Covid, the conflict could add a “further layer of stress over an already emotionally exhausted psyche.”
She said it’s crucial not to avoid the topic should your child want to discuss it.
Emma, founder of We Are Appy, said: “Don’t avoid difficult questions even though you may wish to do so.
“Talking about death, particularly after the past two years is something most of us understandably wish to avoid, but children need to understand why war happens and why innocent people are affected.
“Acknowledge that it is okay to feel sad and to express that sadness, and encourage them to recognise that this makes them a very compassionate, kind and empathetic human who you are incredibly proud of.”
Here Emma, along with clinical psychotherapist Tania Taylor, share their advice on how to talk to your children about the conflict.
Avoid passing on your fears
Emma said it’s important parents don’t pass on their own anxieties.
She said: “Your kids will model their reactions on yours. Before you consider having any conversations with your children, make sure that you are calm and composed and ideally prepared with enough information to make sense and whilst answering their questions.
“Avoid sharing your fears and instead remind your children that no matter what you face, you will be facing it together and that in the end life will return to normal, and until then you will be here to protect them.”
Tania added: “I’ve heard of a child overhearing a teacher saying, ‘Now it’ll be World War III.’ The child’s parent then had to explain that even though the teacher is in a position of trust, they were possibly anxious themselves and misinterpreting what’s happening.”
Don’t press the matter
Tania recommends allowing your child to take the lead.
She suggests being open to their questions, but don’t press the issue as your child may not be interested at all.
Tania said: “It very much depends on the child and as the parent or carer, you’re the person who knows them better than anyone.
“I don’t think we should bombard our children with information that may not be useful to them. We should make sure they have the facts but only if they request the information.
“If we are led by our children, we can answer their questions appropriately, and we can also recognise if they’re not interested at all. They might be more interested in what’s for dessert!”
Show you’re open to discussion
It’s a good idea to reassure your children that they can come to you with worries.
Tania said: “You might gently say something like, ‘We’ve seen this on the news, what are your thoughts about it?’ and ‘Do you need anything explaining?’
“This lets your child know that you’re a trusted person with knowledge about the situation, even if you don’t feel particularly knowledgable about it. It’s much better for them to come to you about it rather than getting their information in the playground or on social media.
“If you don’t know the answer, say so. I’ve done that myself when my 17-year-old son was asking about the situation because he had seen something on TikTok, and we established together that it was fake news.
“For younger children, you could watch Newsround together which has lots of articles on the conflict.”
Reassure them – and talk about past wars
To put your child’s mind to rest, you could look at a map to see the distance between Ukraine and the UK, and where Russia is.
Tania said: “You can explain that, unfortunately, there have been conflicts throughout the world for their entire lives.
And Emma added: “Talk about your own parents and grandparents and their experiences of past wars. This can help anchor your child’s worries.
“Knowing that others have lived through challenging times and are still here to tell the tale can really help them find perspective.
Start a gratitude diary together
Emma said it’s important to emphasise your child’s resilience and get them to think about how they can apply that now.
She said: “They have already lived through a pandemic full of anxiety and uncertainty and this means they have already developed some excellent coping strategies.”
One good technique to get into the habit of doing – no matter what the situation – is to list three things they are so grateful for every night before bed.
Emma said: “You can also talk about one thing they have struggled with but have learnt from which fosters positivity and helps relieve anxiety.”
Be proactive and talk to their school
Emma said taking action can help children in these situations.
She said: “When we feel like we have no control over things that we fear may affect us, we often become anxious about them. If your child seems to be struggling to sleep, is losing their appetite, or is expressing high levels of fear and anxiety about the war, it is down to them wishing to control the uncontrollable.
“In these circumstances, it can really help to discuss a way of them taking an active role in the events playing out. Helping them to think of some inventive ways to fundraise for those affected by the war won’t just encourage pro-social behaviour, it will help them feel a level of positive control over their environment.”
Tania added: “There are all different kinds of things you can do. It might not be fundraising, it could be talking to your school to see if they are going to be talking about the issue.
“It’s worth putting things into context and explaining how fortunate we are to not be going something similar.”
Take a break by turning off social media
Encouraging your child to put down their screens and get out for a walk every day will help them to “mindfully listen to the world around them,” according to Emma.
Alex Gray, Service Head at Childline said: “Get the whole family to take a media break, including social media and do something you all enjoy. Turn your notifications off so you’re not getting breaking news alerts.
“Yoga, breathing exercises and mindfulness are healthy ways to cope together.”
Psychologist Emma Kenny recommends emphasising your child’s resilience[/caption]
Hypnotherapist and psychologist Tania Taylor advises being open to questions[/caption]