As the news about Ukraine and the devastation they are currently facing spreads across the news and social media platforms, those of us looking on from the safety of our own homes are worrying. And our children and young people are seeing these stories, and fake news across TikTok and instagram, which is spiking their anxiety.
We need to stay informed to an extent on the world news, but in ways that are protective of our mental health. The devastating images we’re seeing are causing some of us a lot of stress and anxiety, and there’s now fake news and images going around on social media which are ramping up our already anxious brains. While we, as adults, may not fully understand what’s going on, we do have a better idea and ability to comprehend the information.
Our young people and children, however, do not. They see these terrifying news stories - fake or real - and their anxiety is spiking, they’ll be talking to friends feeding the anxiety about the unknown. Even if it’s all going on in the background for many of them, they're absorbing this information with no idea how to process it or protect their wellbeing from it.
We don’t want to add to their fear so do take your time, give yourself space to approach the conversation with clarity.
How to talk to children and young people
As parents and carers we might just want to give facts and keep them informed to protect them, but this way can still be overwhelming - as we well know from watching the news ourselves.
Before talking about this with your young people, notice your own state of mind. Many of us are feeling worried and fearful, and our children will pick up on this in our voices, tones and the words we’re using. Now, that doesn’t mean don’t talk to them if you’re not comfortable yourself, it means approach that with them - normalise the fear we’re feeling and explain that while it’s not particularly comfortable to feel, it’s normal. We don’t want to add to their fear so do take your time, give yourself space to approach the conversation with clarity.
Children under 5 aren’t likely to really know what’s going on right now, but if and when they do ask, talk about it in simple and relatable terms. For example, “one country isn’t being very nice to another, like when there’s a fall out in the playground at school”. Be mindful about their exposure to the news, on the radio, chatting in the playground at pick up, older siblings at home, to protect them from learning too much about the situation.
Our older children, school aged to adolescents are likely hearing about things in school, on TV, and social media, which may not always be true information. Guide them towards credible sources if they are interested in understanding what’s happening, but at their level. CBBC’s newsround or The Day have the information available in digestible ways from young people.
Protecting your children’s mental wellbeing:
It’s important to stay informed and talk about current affairs with our young people, but we also need to protect their mental health, as well as our own. We’ve got some tips for reassuring and comforting our anxieties right now:
1. Talk about it in small chunks
If our young people are asking and we want to talk about it, there’s a time and place - perhaps over dinner or on a walk, rather than right before bed or around smaller ears. Stick to shorter conversations to prevent us all from spiralling in our anxieties. You could look at a news report together and go through questions - don’t be afraid to admit you don’t have all the answers to their questions. When it comes to ending this conversation, check in with how they are feeling now - are they feeling more at ease, has it helped, do they need a bit more time to talk?
2. Connect with their worlds
Reminding our children and young people of the distance between us and the Ukraine right now can be helpful. It may feel privileged, and it’s ok to acknowledge this with them, but it can help to remember the distance we have from all the terror and danger. Spend time connecting with their worlds, what’s been going on in their day, what are they friends up to at the weekend, maybe plan a baking or movie day to remind them they’re safe in their world right now.
3. Listen to their feelings
Give your children and young people space to say how they are feeling about it, and try to listen without interrupting or telling them how to feel. We can be quick to shut down difficult feelings in people we care about because we don’t want them to feel anything but good. But this is one of those times where we’re all feeling a little wobbly, and it’s ok that our children are too. Listen to how they are, and work out ways to manage this with them.
4. Workout your coping strategies
When we’re feeling anxious, coping strategies can help us manage those difficult feelings. Find something that helps your young people to unwind like colouring or reading, maybe to connect with the family like cooking together or going for walks together. Whatever works for you and your family to help them feel safe and secure around the moments of anxiety and fear.
5. Remember it’s normal to feel anxious
You know the drill, uncertainty leads to anxiety, like the beginning of the pandemic and lockdowns, to now with the state of the world. It’s normal to be worried and it’s ok, protect your wellbeing as best you can by being mindful of media exposure and creating routines to soothe our feelings where you can.
Young people’s wellbeing: if you’re children or young people are really struggling with the fear and anxiety, it might be noticeable in tummy aches or headaches, irritable or snappy behaviour or being more tearful or reactive in day to day life. Be compassionate for them when the behaviour is a little wild, and for yourself if keeping your cool is tricky. There’s a lot going on, and it’s ok to not feel ok.
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