Just when we thought we could catch our breath as pandemic fears ease, we are now watching in horror as Russia invades Ukraine. The news is non-stop, showing us images of bombings, terrified parents and children trying to flee their homes, families being separated as men stay back to fight for their country. It is hard for us to fathom, hard to watch, and even harder for our children to understand and process. How do we talk with them about this invasion?
Since I started my podcast, I’ve been turning to our resident expert on children and stress, Dr. Victor Carrión, to get his take on how we can help our children cope with stressful situations. Dr. Carrión is the Vice-Chair of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University and the Director of the Stanford Early Life Stress and Resilience Program. He has been a regular podcast guest and I reached out to ask him to share some of his advice with the #GCP Community.
How to Approach Conversations About Ukraine With Your Kids:
DO: Check-In Before Diving In
Start by asking your children what they do know, if they want to talk about it more, if they have any questions, and ask how they are feeling. Listen to their answers and respect their boundaries. If they are not focusing on this (especially the younger ones), don’t feel like you need to spend a lot of time talking about it, and be sure to manage your own media consumption in their presence.
DO: Lead With Facts
Let your family know that they are safe and secure. Let them know what we as a country are doing (at an age appropriate level of detail). Talk with them about what sources of information are reliable, and about social media and other internet sites which may not be. If they want to help, you can also talk as a family about how to do so through various charitable organizations. If you have older children, include conversation about the intersection of racism with the horrors of war. Namely, the discriminatory treatment that African and Indian immigrants and students are currently encountering at the Ukrainian borders as they try to leave.
DO: Be Sensitive to Ages and Stages of Development
Anxiety may present itself differently in children at varying ages. Pre-schoolers may react to stress by regressing and acting out as they did when they were younger. School age kids may have physical symptoms of stress, like stomach aches or headaches that have no other medical explanation. Another sign of stress in adolescents is withdrawal; they may tend to become more isolated or withdraw when they actually need help. Keep your eyes on the kids as this news continues to unfold.
DON’T: Force a Conversation on Current Events
Don’t feel the need to give daily updates. Find the right time to talk with your kids about their capacity and interest on the topic and be sure to go with their flow.
DON’T: Feel Like You Have to Have All the Answers
If questions arise to which you don’t know the answers, look the answers up together. If you’re anxious about potentially sensitive content and information popping up in front of your children that may not be age appropriate for them to ingest, be open to sharing that you do not know, but will do some research and get back to them.
DON’T: Obsess Over the Media and News
This advice comes from yours truly. News coverage is non-stop, and things are changing moment by moment. Staying glued to media coverage 24/7 is not a healthy practice for you or your family. Doing so can increase stress for you and your children, so be sure to step away from the coverage, focus on your normal daily lives and find time to connect to joy and gratitude.
Focus on your family’s wellness as you deal with this tragic turn of events. Wellness is the focus of Season 4, coming soon.