5 tips on how to talk to your child about the war
How to talk to children about difficult subjects is a very personal choice. Covid forced us all to have very difficult conversations. Do we press repeat mode or is this a different scenario altogether?

Our brain is not built for constant ongoing threat

As if we are not exhausted enough from the never-ending two years since covid, there is now a major war going on.
If we as adults think we can’t deal with any more catastrophes, then it is fair to wonder how our children can possibly cope. Our brains are designed to deal with short spurts of danger/disaster, then recover and move on. As we all have experienced by now, ongoing threat is extremely draining to our system.

Does switching off from it all make me a bad person?

A big difference to covid is that then we had no choice but to explain to our children what was happening. Watching atrocities on tv is distressing and if I choose to switch off from it all, I might feel inconsiderate and selfish.

As a therapist working in anxiety and seeing increasing numbers of younger children suffer and as a parent, I ask myself the following questions:

  • Is following closely what is happening going to make anyone’s life better? As empathetic human beings we feel pain for the victims and helplessness. Often our way to react is often to dive right into the bath of disaster and cover ourselves with all the pain and suffering we see. But who is this really going to help?
  • Is this going to take me up the emotional scale or down? In solution focused hypnotherapy we work a lot with scaling and what small steps or changes will help us feel better. Is watching the news and worrying about what might happen helping you feel any better or is it getting you down, maybe even feeding your worries and anxieties?
  • In which way is it useful to teach my children about this war?

 

As we do have more of a choice now, is it best to educate our children and have honest conversations or is this a moment to step in and protect your child?

Here 5 tips on how to talk to your child about the war:

1. Choose clearly what your children see on TV and hear you talk about
We all get overwhelmed with pictures of suffering even at normal times. For children this is much harder as they can not put things into context. Children should also not have to worry about such serious issues at a young age but with it being all over the media we can’t avoid them picking up on it. Age appropriate news channels like BBC’s Newsround (6-12 years) are a great source of support.

Grown up conversations are exactly that: grown up conversations. Be aware of those random chats you have with other parents at pick up, with the lady in the shop, the friendly neighbour who happened to be outside when you arrive home. Kids have big ears and will listen in but contrary to a proper sit down conversation are left to decipher what they have heard. This is probably the hardest part to be aware of.

2. Your children pick up on your moods
You will be the main and first source of reference for your child. If you are calm, they will be. If you are anxious, they will be too. Research has shown that young children have 100% identical stress hormones to their mothers.
‘That’s not fair!’, I hear you say. I know! But this can help you put emphasis on calming yourself down first and you might be surprised what positive effect it will have on your child. Remember those flight turbulences that make your stomach churn, but as soon as the flight attendant smiles at you, it all calms down again.

3. Children can’t understand dimensions
During covid, I met lots of children struggling with anxiety. Some ‘simply’ had seen a glimpse of news talking about hundreds of dead people. For a child, 200 people who died is equivalent to the amount of kids in their school, their village or their sports club. Kids can not work out that 200 dead people out of almost 70 Million in the whole of the UK is a relatively low number in that context.

Those techniques us adults use to put things into perspective and calm ourselves down, do not work with children.
Watching people getting killed or flee danger will automatically activate our fight or flight mode, even if these atrocities are happening miles away. After all they are in your living room on a screen. Our brain can not dissociate that.

4. Use child appropriate language and images

Knowing how to talk to your child about a war is difficult. Children do not need to know everything. They simply could not cope with all the info flying around on all media channels. Let’s be honest, us adults can’t either. My tips for adults if you are struggling with anxiety yourself, is to reduce your intake of news drastically, the same has to be for children.

This is the moment to shield your kids. Finding the right words to talk about something so overwhelming and scary is difficult. You know your child best, trust your instincts. You could also ask your child’s school how they have approached the subject so you can continue that conversation or ask your child what it already knows. You can then stay at their level and avoid oversharing and overexplaining and observe how they are feeling about it all. And remember, your body language will say as much as you words. Be calm and reassuring.

5. Distraction
While distraction can be much harder for adults, it works a treat with children. If your child gets really agitated or anxious, it is best not to dive into the problem or the cause of the anxiety, as it will increase their worrying. Changing the subject to something pleasant will allow the brain to switch to another calmer part.
Ask about what good stuff happened at school today or start discussing the next holidays, anything that creates a fun picture in their mind. This also reminds them that life goes on as usual and there is a positive future.

If you would like to add anything to the 5 tips on how to talk to your child about the war, please get in touch. I’d love to hear your opinion!

If your child is struggling to the point that it is affecting their sleep or daily life, I’d recommend asking for help. Your GP can refer you to the appropriate professionals. Alternatively other professionals working with anxiety like counsellors and hypnotherapists can also help you and your child.

 

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About Veronique 

Hi, I’m Veronique Mertes and I’m a fully qualified Solution Focused Hypnotherapist and Clinical Psychotherapist. I trained with the renowned Clifton Practice (CPHT) and award winner Matthew Cahill.

I am a member of the National Council for Hypnotherapy (NCH) and the Association for Solution Focused Hypnotherapy (AfSFH) and I would love to help you to change your life for the better.

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