Today’s post is by Momentous parent educator, Alma Villareal.
Parents, teachers and adults are having conversations about war and conflict between Ukraine and Russia with children. These conversations can be challenging and emotional, and many adults wonder how to approach them. We have tips on how to talk to kids about the war in Ukraine here (for parents) and here (in the classroom). But even before these conversations, it is important to take care of your own emotions and mental health in order to make the conversations with kids successful.
Consider these tips:
1. Take time to reflect on your own feelings.
It is easy to jump straight into conversations with children and think about how they may react, and what they may be feeling and experiencing. However, it’s important to take a moment to think about your own feelings. War is scary and unsettling. It’s even more scary if we have a personal connection to it – family members or friends in that part of the world, in the military, or otherwise connected to the conflict.
Mindfulness is a helpful tool to understand our own emotions. Simply put, mindfulness is the act of paying attention to our emotions in a non-judgmental way. This means noticing what we’re feeling, but not feeling bad about it or attempting to change it. In this case, it might mean acknowledging fear, anxiety, anger, or some other emotion, and then giving yourself permission to feel this way.
2. Process your emotions in a safe space.
Conversations with kids about heavy topics such as war must be filtered to be developmentally appropriate. Children do not have the cognitive or emotional ability to know and discuss every aspect of complex conversations. Thus it is important to have deeper conversations in a safe space with other adults who can support you in working through the emotions involved. This might mean discussing it with a partner, friend, colleague, therapist, faith leader, friend group or parenting group. And this is important: these conversations should happen in a safe place with other adults outside the earshot of children.
3. Practice healthy boundary setting.
We all have limits on what we can take in. With the 24-hour news cycle, we could literally intake news and updates all day long. We hear it on the car radio on our drive to work, on the TV on the nightly news, on social media on our phones, on notifications throughout the day… and on and on. We each have our own tolerance for news, but it is important to identify when it feels like too much and set healthy boundaries. It might mean only checking social media at pre-selected times/days, listening to music in the car instead of news, allowing one hour of news a day, subscribing to a news digest instead of getting notified throughout the day, or whatever works best for you.
Once we’ve taken the time to be thoughtful about our own feelings and worked through them in a healthy and safe place, we’ll be much more prepared to have healthy and productive conversations with children.