If you’ve turned on the news or been on social media recently then you’ve certainly heard about the devastating Russia-Ukraine Conflict.
In some parts of the world families are experiencing it first hand with the jarring sounds of bombs and loud sirens in the background, having to relocate, or worrying about loved ones who are fighting. In other parts of the world people are holding their breath while watching the news, hoping and praying for peace, or arguing their point of view on social media. Then there are others who are triggered by the conflict and are reminded of a painful loss from their past. No matter why you’re grieving over this Russia-Ukraine Conflict, you might be feeling a range of emotions from anger and confusion to fear and a loss of safety.
If you’re feeling it, your kids might be feeling it too.
As a parent you probably want to shield your children from worry or heartache. Unfortunately, we can’t protect our kids from every fear or dangerous situation, but we can protect them from the pitfalls of avoiding their feelings which can negatively impact the rest of their lives.
Grief is the normal and natural emotional reaction to loss or change of any kind. That includes a loss of safety. Even if the conflict isn’t impacting you personally we are all affected by what we see in our world.
War makes us realize how little control we have in our outward environments. But we can control the messages we give our kids.
How can you best show up emotionally for your kids during times of war and armed conflict?
- Tell the truth about how you feel. It will establish a tone of trust and safety.
- Go first. You are the leader of the family. It will make it safe for your child to do the same.
- Use a normal, conversational tone, so your child feels comfortable.
- Know that grief is emotional, not intellectual. Feeling sad or afraid is normal.
- Remember that every child has a unique perception about what they hear and believe about war.
- Explain your beliefs about war clearly and openly to your children.
- Be patient. Give your child time to form their own opinions.
- Listen with your heart, not your head. Allow kids to share their emotions without judgment or criticism.
- Allow your children to talk about it as often as they want.
- Do give honest and simple answers that directly respond to their questions.
- Do read about the Myths About Grief eBook to learn how to avoid saying things that aren’t helpful.
- Don’t say "Don't feel scared." Fear is a normal and common response to scary situations.
- Don’t say "Don't feel sad." Sadness is a healthy and normal reaction when discussing war.
- Don’t act strong for your children. Body language makes up 80% or more of communication. When your words and actions don’t match it can be confusing to your kids and gives them the message that they have to be strong too, which often means repressing their feelings.
- Don’t compare their lives or situations to others in the world. Comparison minimizes their feelings.
- Don’t make promises that you cannot keep. Instead of saying "Everything's going to be okay," say, "We'll do everything we can to be safe."
- Don’t try to fix them. They aren’t broken. Feelings need to be heard, not fixed.
Children respond to loss based on the example set by the adults around them. If they see you honestly expressing your emotions, they will know it is okay for them to do the same. If they hear you talking about your grief in emotional terms, rather than trying to explain away your feelings intellectually, they will follow suit. You can’t control the actions of government and world leaders, but you can control the messages you give our children. Choose love.
Grab a copy of When Children Grieve to learn more about helping children with loss.
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