Why and how to talk to your children about the events in Ukraine

Over the past few years, the world has been encumbered with more distressing events that have impacted children. As parents and educators, we are challenged with the difficulty of toeing the line between giving children the information they need versus overloading them with topics that are too complex for them to understand, and therefore create distress in them. Given that children are growing up in this world, they need to learn how to manage and cope with stressful current events in healthy ways. Lise Huppler, Geordie Theatre’s study guide author, answers a few common questions about talking to your kids about the events in Ukraine.

Should children be shielded from upsetting news?
Many children find the news scary, how can parents address that? What level of news is age appropriate? Where can parents find age-appropriate access to news?

Lise Huppler: Children are typically more often exposed to news and information than we realize. Unfortunately, their access to information is usually piecemeal, delivered via informal peer conversations, overhearing adult discussions or the news channel or open access to the internet. Not only might this information be questionable in validity, the manner in which it is presented might be alarming to the child. This highlights the importance of informing children, in an age-appropriate manner, of current events that are happening locally or internationally in a more controlled environment. It gives the parent or educator the opportunity to help children develop an understanding of emotions, how to process heavier topics, develop empathy and perspective-taking for other humans and become informed citizens of their world.

There are many resources available to help parents make informed decision about how to approach difficult topics with young children. It is crucial that parents find the age-appropriate approach and vocabulary to discuss these situations with children as it can promote their absorption of the information in a healthy and manageable way. Adult news channels and websites can be overwhelming for children and young adolescents. A good place to start is by reading the reviews of the best news sources for children at Common Sense Media. 

How can parents avoid projecting their own fears onto their children? How can parents manage their own insecurities?

Lise Huppler: It is important to maintain a calm and securing disposition when speaking to children and adolescents about distressing situations because your approach and state of mind will become the blueprint to how they manage their own emotions. If you are struggling with the topic yourself, take time and space to clear your mind until you are ready to engage and be emotionally connected to your child as they will be looking to you for security and comfort. However, in a state of uncertainty during these turbulent times, it is understandable that you as a parent will be concerned. Keep in mind that it is equally important as a part of a healthy relationship with your child that you acknowledge mutual worry or concern for a difficult situation in a reasonable, open discussion. It will validate your child’s own emotions and give you an opportunity to discuss and model positive coping mechanisms while providing guidance.

When is professional help needed?

Lise Huppler: All children have periods of heightened emotional volatility or anxiety at some point or another, especially during times of general unrest. Addressed with sensitivity, patience and support, these periods can serve as opportunity to develop emotional management and coping skills. However, these periods might persist or increase in intensity. The question then becomes: At which point should you seek professional help? Here are signs your child needs counselling.

Lise Huppler is a learning specialist for children and adolescents and an educational consultant in neurodiversity. She teaches at High School in Montreal. Lise has been authoring Geordie Theater’s study guides since 2019.

Geordie Theatre is located on the unceded Indigenous lands of the Kanien’kehá:ka (Mohawk) nation of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy. Tiotià:ke (known as Montréal) has existed as a meeting place of many First Nation peoples, including but not limited to the Abenaki, Anishinaabeg (Algonquin), and the Huron-Wendat. We extend our deepest respect to the elders of these communities and to all Indigenous peoples who carry the history of this island’s land and waters – caring for it and calling it home. We are honoured and privileged to share stories on this land.

We wish to also acknowledge that we are grateful to those seeking sustainable solutions to our global climate crisis, so that we may continue to inspire and challenge our audiences near and far.

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