Children and War: Finding the Words to Say It

For more than a month, Ukraine has been attacked by the Russian army and bombed in all directions. Since the beginning of this conflict I have been asked a question many times: how do we talk to our children about the war?

Many parents may initially wonder whether it is better to discuss such a sensitive and complex topic with children. And given the current context, we understand these parents all the better: After two years of the pandemic, which has brought its share of uncertainties and upheavals, it is perfectly legitimate to want to protect our children and to save them from new worries. .

One might think that silence would prevent children from becoming even more stressed or anxious in the face of such a situation. For them, however, it would only be more distressing: they are already exposed to images of war, whether online or on television, and to the words of their friends or classmates.

In short, whether we talk to them about it or not, they will find out about it.

We must not lose sight of the fact that children are exceptional sensors of environmental anxiety. Refusing to talk about the issue or telling them not to worry would have the effect of devaluing the child who is not mature enough to understand such issues and with such complex realities to deal with In such a case, the child would be left to its own devices with its fears and would not have been able to take a step out of the situation without help. He would be stuck in the raw emotion of a fear he didn’t know how to handle.

In these circumstances, parents’ presence, help and listening are not only valuable but necessary.

Talk about it… the right way

While it is beneficial to discuss such topics with your child, you still need to do it properly, taking into account their age and maturity.

Try to avoid exposure to wartime images and videos before the age of 9 or 10.

After this age and when the child has matured, it is better to avoid overexposure.

It is also important that the child viewing a report on the subject can be accompanied by a parent so that the child can share their fears and feelings and the parent can answer their questions.

Listen, acknowledge and calm down

In such discussions, the child is also an interlocutor: before multiplying our answers and our explanations, it is therefore necessary to ask him what he perceives and understands of the situation. Acknowledging his fears, reassuring him, and listening to him are all ways to help him articulate his feelings and calm him down.

It is also possible to explain to him that Canada is a pacifist country and that its leaders are against war. Also, parents can tell children that the vast majority of countries are against war and that they, too, are committed to maintaining world peace.

It is important to tell the children that there are protective factors and that they understand that they can take concrete and meaningful actions.

Children can also be reminded that peace in the world begins small: in our families, in schools, in our communities.

In short, that we can all be vectors of peace.

Choose the right spacetime

A single conversation about the war will not dispel all fears: parents will certainly have to return to the subject, especially if the conflict were to be prolonged or intensified.

It will also be important to choose an appropriate, peaceful context, away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life: if, in a tense moment in the household, you are talking about the war or glancing at your phone, the child will not feel that they have been heard or be heard.

The feeling of security

These breaks, these bubbles of calm with their parents give the youngest a feeling of security.

I repeat that children get scared. But if their father, mother, or a significant adult hears their fears and scales them down without downplaying or trivializing them, the situation will already seem less worrisome because the child will feel more heard, validated, and protected.

Conversely, a very emotional person is unlikely to be able to convince their child that the situation does not affect them.

It is also necessary to explain to the children that people can perceive things very differently. We then avoid falling into an “all or nothing” vision, a large-scale divide between “good guys” and “bad guys,” for example believing that all Russians want war.

listen to the child

Wars, invasions, armed conflicts: humanity is infinitely complex, it is capable of great things, but it also knows its dark sides. We must remind our children that dramatic situations are the subject of great media coverage, that they are extremely distressing, but remain rare.

Finally, remind the children that they too can work daily to make peace.

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