The events unfolding in Ukraine can be upsetting for adults and children alike. It is often hard to know how to reassure our children when we ourselves are also working to understand tragic events. Children may experience a wide range of emotions in response to what they hear or see about the unfolding events. It is important to remember that they will look to the adults in their lives to help them feel safe and to make sense of the world. As a parent or caregiver, you may feel unprepared to help your child understand and process the messages around them. We are reaching out to share with you some strategies and resources that will help guide your conversations with your child and will help them put scary events into perspective.
Limit exposure to news stories on traditional and social media channels
Consider how you access news and how that may impact children nearby. Young children may not know how to make sense of the news they are seeing and can quickly become overwhelmed. Encourage your older child to rely on reputable news sources, and where possible limit their consumption and exposure to upsetting coverage. Talk with your children about the impact of media overload.
Our children and youth will look to us for cues on how to process upsetting information. If we are calm and hopeful, it will be easier for young people to follow our lead. Acknowledging our own feelings will also give children a model for how to express and process their strong emotions. Don’t brush off your child’s concerns but present hopeful information with the truth. Recognize feelings of fear and concern and reassure your child that they are in a safe place. Remind them that you and other adults around them will continue to keep them safe.
Listen more than you speak
Listen to your child’s concerns before offering any explanations. Give them an opportunity to voice their fears and ask age-appropriate open-ended questions. Ask what they may have heard and what that information means to them. You may uncover misconceptions and unfounded fears that need correcting. These questions will also help you understand if your child is coming from a place of curiosity, concern or fear, and will help you gain a sense of what your child may need from adults to feel safe and supported. Some of the questions you can ask include the following:
Tell me what you have heard about this.
Where did you first hear about this?
What questions do you have?
Tell the truth but do it gently. Give your child facts but keep conversations age appropriate. Children need to know their concerns and questions are being taken seriously by the adults around them and that they can trust their adults to be truthful with them. If you don’t know the answer to a question, don’t be afraid to say so.
Encourage empathy and compassion
Remind your child there may be others in their daily lives who may be impacted by current world events. Some of their classmates, for example, may have family from Ukraine, Russia, or neighbouring countries, or they may themselves come from one of such countries. Talk with your child about how we need to treat others with extra compassion and empathy during times like these. Tragedies and times of sadness and grief can be opportunities to teach compassion. They give people a chance to be kind and caring. As Mr. Rogers has said:
“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of disaster, I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.”
As school district staff, we recognize that this is a very uncertain time and that our students may require additional support. We will continue to prioritize the mental health and well-being of our students. If you feel your child is being negatively impacted and may need additional support, please reach out to your school counsellor who can recommend supports and services. The resources below provide a good start for tackling this difficult subject:
SD42 Deputy Superintendent
Safe and Caring Schools