How to talk to kids about scary world events

Have you ever wondered how you can talk to your kids about scary world events?

 

As we work through the collective grief many of us are feeling due to current world events, it can be easy to forget that our kids may be feeling it too.

How can we support our children through these times? How do we answer their questions and reassure them?

Our natural reaction is to try and shield our kids, to not talk about it at all. However, if children are unable to bring their questions to us, they will find out from another source, which places them in a more vulnerable position because we can’t control the quality of the information they are receiving. 

So what can we do to help our kids feel safe?

The following list is not exhaustive, but it will give you some pointers for supporting your kids, and yourself. However, if your child is experiencing anxiety that is affecting their ability to cope with their day to day, the first port of call would be to visit your GP.

 

1. Listen and Validate

If you’re a fixer, it can be difficult to avoid the pep talk. Trying to talk our children out of being worried, scared, or sad isn’t always helpful. If anything, it can leave them feeling alone and misunderstood. 

Never underestimate the power of listening, validation, and your calm presence. Too many words aren’t helpful, but it does help our children to give them some words for what they’re feeling. It could be something like This is really scary, of course you’re worried, or to help an older child/teen understand their feelings There’s so much going on in the world today, it’s normal for you to be feeling emotional right now.

If your child asks questions, be careful not to give too much information. First, find out what they understand, then focus on the question at hand, and reassure them that many countries are working together to find a solution. This mum’s explanation to her 11 year old daughter might be helpful.

Listening is also about watching. Changes in behaviour or energy levels, regression, aggression, all of these could be signs that your child is worried. By looking beyond behaviour and words, by stepping into our child’s shoes and really trying to see the world through their eyes, we send a strong message to our kids that they are not alone. 

 

2. Information Overload

In the same way that the food we eat affects our physical health, so does the information we digest affect our mental and spiritual health. It can be easy to feel overwhelmed with the ugly in this world, but there are also many stories of hope and resilience, stories which showcase kindness and community. These positive stories of humanity reassure our kids that there is still beauty in the world, and it’s still safe for them to enjoy it.

 

Monitor screen time. Not only is this important to filter the constant barrage of doom and gloom, screen time is addictive and can get in the way of other healthy behaviours and activities. Click here for guidelines on screen time for children. 

 

3. More Play Time

Play is one of the best defences against anxiety for our kids. It’s through play that our kids make sense of the world around them. When our kids are playing, they are in charge of their own world, it’s the one place they have total control, and it provides an important escape from the sadness and worries around them.

We can help our kids experience the full benefits of play by providing time for them to just BE, and opportunities for them to engage as many of their senses as possible – movement, touch, sight, sound. 

For some kids just feeling the sand between their toes is a calming experience, others may prefer full flight on the swing, high jumping on the trampoline or rough-housing, and still others may like nothing more than to smell the roses, hug a Teddy, or listen to the birds sing. 

Remember, play is equally important for teens, it just looks a little different. Regardless of age, the key is to follow your child’s lead.

 

4. Get Creative

The Creative Brain is vital for developing coping strategies and resilience. It’s through Dreaming and Imagining that Hope is born, because when we ask What if? we give birth to ideas, ideas that answer questions such as What do I need to feel better? What can I do to make my world better? or Who can I talk to, to feel better?

While play also provides the opportunity to create, exposing our kids to the Arts engages the Creative Brain on a different level, as the focus is redirected to what is beautiful in the world. This provides a space for our kids to regroup and to restore Joy. The ability to find Joy is an important weapon against anxiety. 

While drawing, cutting, gluing and painting are great fun and fantastic creative outlets, there’s other ways to expose our kids to the Arts. It could be as simple as listening to music. If your child doesn’t seem interested in music, try experimenting with different genres and styles of music. Perhaps they haven’t heard the music they like yet. Or it could be exploring your local art gallery, sculpting (with clay or playdough), construction (the recycling section of the local tip is a great resource), or getting lost in a great story, whether it be a good book, a play or a pantomime.

 

5. Debrief

We’ve all heard about the importance of keeping a Gratitude Journal, but this goes a little deeper. Every day, as our kids are unwinding, we can help them debrief by asking three simple questions. 

First – What is one thing that was good about today? This is the Gratitude part, and you can make the most of this by suggesting your child keeps a journal. There may be times when he or she can’t think about anything good, this is where the journal comes into its own, as positive inspires positive, and gratitude inspires even more gratitude. 

Second – Was there anything about today that you didn’t like? Note the deliberate use of Was there, rather than What. This gives our kids the opportunity to talk out their fears and heavy feelings, without the implication that there must have been something negative. And it’s the perfect opportunity for us to Listen and Validate. 

Finally, ask What’s one thing you’re looking forward to about tomorrow? Having something to look forward to restores Hope and gives our children something positive to occupy their minds as they drift into sleep.

These are just a few pointers. For more information on how to talk with kids about war, check out this article by Save the Children. 

Sarina Elder

Sarina Elder

Sarina Elder has worked with families and children for over 25 years and is the Parent Workshop Coordinator at KEYS. For more information on upcoming workshops
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