On Tuesday, I arrived home from work in the evening and sat down to watch the News. Images of war flashed across the screen. So horrendous they were, I found myself blinking back tears and commenting to my husband, “That’s so bad, they shouldn’t be allowed to show that footage. I hope young children aren’t seeing that.”
As adults we should do all we can to shelter children from graphic scenes and violence that their young, developing minds are not yet equipped to make sense of. It’s important that as parents we make decisions about what we’re comfortable with our children seeing and hearing at a particular age, we don’t just let this happen.
Unfortunately, despite our best intentions to protect our children, they can sometimes be exposed to such information. Such images enter our living rooms via media, children overhear adult conversations, they may see social media posts of older siblings or they learn about it from friends in the school playground.
As parents, it’s sometimes difficult to know what our response should be when our children are confronted with news of tragic world events. Such events can trigger children emotionally, as they do us. Therefore, it’s important they be addressed. If your child is aware of the Russia/Ukrainian war, let me encourage you with a few ideas of what you could do to ensure your child has healthily processed what they have seen or heard.
Firstly, let your child know that it is okay to talk about the unpleasant events. Many children may feel sad or even angry, so let them express their full range of emotions and help them explore the feelings that they show. By listening to what they think and feel, you can find out if they have misunderstandings, and you can learn more about the support that they might need.
It’s important to let them guide the conversation or ask them open ended questions. Questions like, ”What have you heard?, or “How does that makes you feel?” will allow your child to share freely. Always use age-appropriate language and don’t explain more than they are ready to hear or understand. For example, to Junior School child when talking about why countries have wars, you may explain that sometimes people in different countries disagree about what’s important to them and this can lead to a war starting. Make it clear that violence is never a good way to resolve conflict but sometimes countries decide they need to start a war in order to keep people safer in the future.
It’s important that you are willing to answer your child’s questions honestly. Children are good observers but can interpret things poorly that are outside of their level of understanding. Therefore, it’s important to help them process their thoughts.
It’s also imperative that your child feels safe. Many children don’t have a good understanding about the notion of distance and may feel that the war is very close. It might be helpful to look at a world map. It’s important to let them know that while the war is happening it is no where near Australia and their lives won’t change.
As you talk to your child, avoid harmful stereotypes. Talking about a specific country or people of a certain nationality could lead to your child developing prejudice. Not every single individual from the country that has instigated war agrees with their country’s decisions, so be cautious with statements you use and perhaps focus more on how you feel about the war in general.
Just because children may be aware of the war doesn’t mean that they should continue to be exposed to it. The visual nature of the media means that images recur repeatedly. As news outlets feature graphic content warnings and images, mute or turn off the TV at these times.
Images can be both distressing to some, while desensitising to others. We should also be aware of own actions. If children see their parents focusing on something too much, they will tend to do the same.
Finally, it’s always heart-warming to see the empathy that children often show when others are hurting. Action can be a great antidote to feelings of stress or helplessness so it may be helpful for children to find a legitimate course of action. Prayer is one avenue. Jesus says ‘Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God’. As Christians, prayer is our direct communication with God. He yearns for this from us and wants to be our source of comfort and help.
It may also be appropriate to talk to your children about refugees who are fleeing Ukraine and pray for them, or donate to causes that support them. Try to focus on positives. In the midst of the heartache of war, you can always find good people who are helping others. Point out these acts of service to your children so that they remember that even though there are some people in the world who do terrible things, there are many more kind and loving people who seek to help, serve and show kindness and compassion.
Finally, if you are talking about war with your children, don’t finish the conversation without focusing also on the many wonderful things that are still happening in our world. Unfortunately, this is not something that the media is good at reminding us but can have such a positive impact on your child’s wellbeing and perception of things.
Mrs Vicki Gunning / Head of Junior School