This is not the blog that I wanted to write. But it is a topic that is all around us and continues each day. At the time of publishing, the war in Ukraine has been going on for 48 days.
You may think that you are not exposing your child to any news of war or invasions, but I promise you that they’ve heard about it. For better or for worse, no one lives in a bubble, and even if you do not have the news on or receive a physical newspaper, your children are hearing about world events – at school, from peers, on YouTube, from pop-ups on their tablet. It is safe to assume that they have heard something about Russia and Ukraine and Putin, and do not know what to make of it.
And I’ll admit, I don’t know what to make of it most days. It makes my heart hurt that humans hurt and kill each other over territory and resources. And my heart really hurts because the last thing children (or adults!) need after the last two years is something else to be fearful about.
So how can we help our kids when our own feelings are big and overwhelming?
- Check-in and be honest.
In a quiet moment, ask your child what they’ve heard so far. And then, in age-appropriate language, you can affirm or reflect on your understanding of the facts. Do you want/need to get clear on the facts before you speak to your child? Here is a simple guide to the conflict. And here are some tools for talking to kids about the facts.
2. Normalize uncertainty.
Our role as adults is to be a “safe harbor” for our kids. This means staying present in what we know and also modeling groundedness when we talk about what we don’t know. Kids may ask questions like “How long will it last?” or “Will Russia attack other countries?” It’s okay to say “I don’t know.” For many adults, “not knowing” stirs up a lot of feelings of anxiety. That’s normal! Notice it, name it, and sit with it. You do not need to be an expert in international relations to be a safe harbor for your child! But you do need to be an expert in noticing your own feelings and needs, and how they impact your responses to your child.
3. Make space for feelings and questions.
You can ask your kids what questions they have, and do your best to address them. Or if they are older, perhaps look into the information together. More importantly, ask them what they are feeling. The goal is simply to get them to name any sadness, fear or worry. As a parent, your role is to simply receive it and make space for it, because this is the deep truth of the journey toward emotional competency. Feelings can’t always be fixed.
Note: It is incredibly normal for kids to move through this conversation very quickly, express their sadness (or say they are fine!), and bound off to find their favorite toy or game. The important thing is that you had the conversation, and now they know they can come to you in the coming days as they have more questions or feelings about what they are hearing or seeing is happening in the world.
I trust you and your family to address what is happening in Ukraine in the way that best serves you and your values. In an age-appropriate way, I’ve always believed that talking about hard things, scary things, and painful things is better than keeping our children from them.
Peaceful parenting makes space for all experiences. We feel things, and give our children the life-affirming space to do the same. And sometimes that hurts. But we are strong. And we are working toward a more peaceful world in our own small way.
I have to keep believing with all my heart that peace is possible. I hope you do too.