How do you talk with your kids when they ask you the tough questions about war and conflict? How can you minimise the stress and the confusion they feel when they see images and scenes they may be too young to understand?
Whether it's Gaza, Syria, Iraq or the Ukraine, young children are witnessing images and scenes that horrify even the most hardened war correspondent. And in the age of rolling news coverage and the internet, they can be potentially exposed to more and more than we ever experienced as children. And just to make these images and scenes all the more distressing and confusing for kids, they all too often feature children tragically caught up in war and conflicts they can never control.
Should you shield kids from the news?
Ultimately, it's your choice as a parent. But consider this: even if you were to throw away your TV, there's every chance your children will see these moments on other TVs, be it at a shopping centre, at their friends’ places or in a relative's home. And even if they don’t, they can still hear about war from their friends, or see photos on the front pages as they walk past the newsagent.
Create an environment in which children can speak freely
Children always need to feel safe, and never more so than when they are talking about events and issues that concern them. So find a time and a place where they feel comfortable and secure, in order to talk to them about their fears and concerns.
Let children guide the conversation
What worries your kids about scenes of war and conflict may surprise you. So let them take the lead in your conversation. This will ensure their concerns are addressed, and not just your assumptions.
Look for non-verbal signs
Children will not always raise their concerns with you directly. So look for the signs that they are feeling distressed. Do they turn away from the television when they fear the news is about to come on? Do they play act scenes of fighting or conflict with their friends? Do they draw pictures that reflect what they are seeing on TV? If so, you may need to bring up the subject and ease their worries.
Be as open as you can
No one expects you to explain the genesis of complex conflicts like a professor of politics, least of all your children. Nor do you need to go into excruciating detail on injury or death. But children are often smarter than you think, and they will gain a sense of comfort if you talk openly. And it’s OK to admit you don’t understand the reasons for war.
Reassure your children
Make sure your children understand that there is no threat of war or conflict where you are. But don’t dismiss their concerns for others – your children are learning empathy and compassion, and that’s to be encouraged.
Do something about it!
Children will often want to do more than just talk about conflict, they may want to take action. Let your children know that they can support communities, whether that’s through raising awareness or fundraising to help organisations responding to conflict.
Children across the world are caught up in conflict. You can help by making a donation to one of Plan's emeregncy appeals.