How to talk to your children about conflict and war

How to talk to your children about conflict and war

8 tips to support and comfort your children

When conflict or war makes the headlines, it can cause feelings such as fear, sadness, anger and anxiety wherever you live.

Children always look to their parents for a sense of safety and security – even more so in times of crisis.

Here are some tips on how to approach the conversation with your child and to provide them with support and comfort.

1. Find out what they know and how they feel

Choose a time and place when you can bring it up naturally and your child is more likely to feel comfortable talking freely, such as during a family meal. Try to avoid talking about the topic just before bedtime.

A good starting point is to ask your child what they know and how they are feeling. Some children might know little about what is happening and not be interested in talking about it, but others might be worrying in silence. With younger children, drawing, stories and other activities may help to open up a discussion.

Kids can discover the news in many ways, so it’s important to check in on what they’re seeing and hearing. It’s an opportunity to reassure them and potentially correct any inaccurate information they might have come across whether online, on TV, at school or from friends.

A constant stream of upsetting images and headlines can make it feel like the crisis is all around us. Younger children may not distinguish between images on screen and their own personal reality and may believe they’re in immediate danger, even if the conflict is happening far away. Older children might have seen worrying things on social media and be scared about how events might escalate.

It’s important not to minimise or dismiss their concerns. If they ask a question that might seem extreme to you, such as “Are we all going to die?”, reassure them that is not going to happen, but also try to find out what they have heard and why they are worried about that happening. If you can understand where the worry is coming from, you are more likely to be able to reassure them.

Be sure to acknowledge their feelings and assure them that whatever they are feeling is natural. Show that you’re listening by giving them your full attention and remind them that they can talk to you or another trusted adult whenever they like.

2. Keep it calm and age-appropriate

Children have a right to know what’s going on in the world, but adults also have a responsibility to keep them safe from distress. You know your child best. Use age-appropriate language, watch their reactions, and be sensitive to their level of anxiety.

It is normal if you feel sad or worried about what is happening as well. But keep in mind that kids take their emotional cues from adults, so try not to overshare any fears with your child. Speak calmly and be mindful of your body language, such as facial expressions.

Use age-appropriate language, watch their reactions, and be sensitive to their level of anxiety.

As much as you can, reassure your children that they are safe from any danger. Remind them that many people are working hard around the world to stop the conflict and find peace.  

Remember that it’s OK to not have the answer to every question. You can say that you need to look it up or use it as an opportunity with older children to find the answers together. Use websites of reputable news organisations or international organisations like UNICEF and the UN. Explain that some information online isn’t accurate and the importance of finding reliable sources.

3. Spread compassion, not stigma

Conflict can often bring with it prejudice and discrimination, whether against a people or country. When talking to your children, avoid labels like “bad people” or “evil” and instead use it as an opportunity to encourage compassion, such as for the families forced to flee their homes.

Even if a conflict is happening in a distant country, it can fuel discrimination on your doorstep. Check that your children are not experiencing or contributing to bullying. If they have been called names or bullied at school, encourage them to tell you or an adult whom they trust.

Remind your children that everyone deserves to be safe at school and in society. Bullying and discrimination is always wrong and we should each do our part to spread kindness and support each other.

4. Focus on the helpers

It’s important for children to know that people are helping each other with acts of courage and kindness. Find positive stories, such as the first responders assisting people, or young people calling for peace.

The sense of doing something, no matter how small, can often bring great comfort.

See if your child would like to participate in taking positive action. Perhaps they could draw a poster or write a poem for peace, or maybe you could participate in a local fundraiser or join a petition. The sense of doing something, no matter how small, can often bring great comfort.

>> Explore: Poems for peace by children around the world

5. Close conversations with care

As you end your conversation, it’s important to make sure that you are not leaving your child in a state of distress. Try to assess their level of anxiety by watching their body language, considering whether they’re using their usual tone of voice and watching their breathing.

Remind them that you care and that you’re there to listen and support whenever they’re feeling worried.

6. Continue to check in

As news of the conflict continues, you should continue to check in with your child to see how they’re doing. How are they feeling? Do they have any new questions or things they would like to talk about with you?

If your child seems worried or anxious about what’s happening, keep an eye out for any changes in how they behave or feel, such as stomachaches, headaches, nightmares or difficulties sleeping.

Children have different reactions to adverse events and some signs of distress might not be so obvious. Younger children may become clingier than usual, while teens might show intense grief or anger. Many of these reactions only last for a short time and are normal reactions to stressful events. If these reactions last for a prolonged period of time, your child may need specialist support.

You can help them reduce stress through doing activities like belly breathing together:

  • Take 5 deep breaths, spend 5 seconds breathing in and 5 seconds breathing out, breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth
  • Explain that when your child inhales, they are blowing up their tummy softly like a balloon, and when they exhale the air is going slowly out of the balloon again.

Be ready to talk to your child if they ever bring up the subject. If it’s just before bedtime, finish up with something positive such as reading a favourite story to help them to sleep well.

>> Read: How to recognize signs of distress in children
>> Read: Activities to reduce stress and support your and your child’s well-being

7. Limit the flood of news

Be mindful of how exposed your children are to the news while it’s full of alarming headlines and upsetting images. Consider switching off the news around younger children. With older children, you could use it as an opportunity to discuss how much time they spend consuming news and what news sources they trust. Also consider how you talk about the conflict with other adults if your children are within hearing distance.

As much as possible, try to create positive distractions like playing a game or going for a walk together.

8. Take care of yourself

You’ll be able to help your kids better if you’re coping, too. Children will pick up on your own response to the news, so it helps them to know that you are calm and in control.

If you’re feeling anxious or upset, take time for yourself and reach out to other family, friends and trusted people. Be mindful of how you’re consuming news: Try identifying key times during the day to check in on what is happening rather than constantly being online. As much as you are able, make some time to do things that help you relax and recuperate.

(unicef.org. April 2022)

 

screen time with children

SCREEN TIME AND CHILDREN

For children, television and DVDs, and other electronic devices, are a window to the wider world. They take in messages about lifestyles and behaviour that influence their development in good and bad ways.

How TV affects children

Babies and toddlers

The first two years are important for brain development. Babies learn and grow best by talking and playing with real people, not screen people. Using TV for companionship, distraction or to promote sleep can become a habit in later life.

Kindy-age children

Screen images start to become more interesting to children at this age. However, lifetime habits are formed in the kindy years. Children under six have difficulty understanding the difference between fantasy and reality. They can see cartoon characters as real and they are open to the appeal of advertising. They do not follow plots.

School-age children

Children aged six to nine years have some difficulty understanding the difference between fantasy and reality, especially if it looks like real life. They can believe that TV situations depict real families or real places. They tend to admire and want to be like their TV hero or heroine.

How much screen time for children?

Screen time is the time you spend watching TV or DVDs, using the computer, playing video or hand-held computer games, and using a mobile phone.

• Under two years – no screen time is the best choice.

• Two to five years – no more than one hour a day.

• Five and older – no more than two hours a day. 

Continue reading https://earlychildhood.qld.gov.au/earlyYears/Documents/pts-screen-time-and-children.pdf

(earlychildhood.qld.gov.au. Feb 2015)

childrens books

BRAIN BOOSTING WITH BOOKS

Some guiding principles to consider to help boost literacy and language with books:

  • Pick a book you like—children of all ages can sense when you’re enjoying what you’re reading. Your enthusiasm will come through to them with a strong positive message around books and reading.
  • Find a book with some vocabulary stretching words—the words could be as simple as ‘screeching’ gulls or when someone ‘bellows’ but hearing and understanding these will not only add to a child’s ability to understand the word, it will also provide them with more words to clearly express themselves.
  • Find words that illustrate their meaning—many picture books use print in a playful way, with words such as ‘tall’ and ‘small’ lengthened and shrunk in the text, or emphasised such as ‘No’. Talk with children about why they are the shape they are, or why they are written differently.
  • Look for environmental print in illustrations—language and print are everywhere, and children will link these examples to their own environments and keep on learning about how the world works. Picture books are full of signs, maps, plans, letters, labels and directions—once you start seeing them you won’t stop. 
  • Pick a different focus each time—you’ll get a chance to share the story again, and if it’s a favourite, again and again and again! Pick a different literacy focus each time, and the benefits grow as you lay those foundations.

(earlychildhood.qld.gov.au. June 2021)

child doing puzzle

LEARNING WITH PUZZLES

Puzzles are a great way to create a fun learning opportunity fo children.

Simple jigsaw puzzles help children develop finger strength, perseverance and problem-solving skills.

Ask your child to turn, flip, slide and wriggle pieces into position. Picking up, moving and twisting the pieces of a puzzle helps children to develop finger strength and hand-eye coordination. As your child picks up and positions pieces, they also develop small-muscle control in their fingers.

Playing with these puzzles encourages children to look at pictures more carefully, going over them from top to bottom and from left to right. Through doing this, children may begin to notice visual similarities and differences.

Puzzles develop memory skills, as well as an ability to plan, test ideas and solve problems. While completing a puzzle, children need to remember shapes, colours, positions and strategies to finish them.

The experience of completing a puzzle can also help your child to learn to accept challenges, overcome problems and deal with frustrations as well as giving them a sense of achievement. 

(earlychildhood.qld.gov.au. October 2020)

wellbeing for children with autism

WELLBEING FOR CHILDREN WITH AUTISM

Screen time and children

For children, television and DVDs, and other electronic devices, are a window to the wider world. They take in messages about lifestyles and behaviour that influence their development in good and bad ways.

How TV affects children

Babies and toddlers

The first two years are important for brain development. Babies learn and grow best through talking and playing with real people, not screen people. Using TV for companionship, distraction or to promote sleep can become a habit in later life.

Kindy-age children

Screen images start to become more interesting to children at this age. However, lifetime habits are formed in the early years. Children under six have difficulty understanding the difference between fantasy and reality. They can see cartoon characters as real and they are open to the appeal of advertising. They do not follow plots.

School-age children

Children aged six to nine years have some difficulty understanding the difference between fantasy and reality, especially if it looks like real life. They can believe that TV situations depict real families or real places. They tend to admire and want to be like their TV hero or heroine.

How much screen time for children?

Screen time is the time you spend watching TV or DVDs, using the computer, playing video or hand-held computer games, and using a mobile phone.

  • Under two years – no screen time is the best choice.
  • Two to five years – no more than one hour a day.
  • Five and older – no more than two hours a day. 

 

the benefits of outdoor play for babies

Outdoor experiences are an integral part of children’s healthy growth, learning, wellbeing and development. The benefits of outdoor learning environments and engagement in nature play for young children are varied and many. Encouraging babies to spend time in the outdoor environment (including touching sand, grass, dirt or leaves), has potential health benefits and can help stimulate their immune systems. Opportunities to move freely, grasp objects, kick legs, crawl and observe others running and playing supports physical development. Research indicates that spending time in fresh air also encourages better healthy sleep patterns for babies as they begin to understand the difference between night and day.

Providing babies with diverse experiences and early opportunities to engage in natural outdoor play can additionally support their sense of belonging to the world. It also creates an important foundation that embeds a continued and lasting interest in exploring, questioning and appreciating nature and fostering curiosity. Making sense of new sights, smells, textures and sounds stimulates brain development and provides a foundation for learning by encouraging discovery and exploration. When you engage in outdoor learning experiences with and alongside children, there are further opportunities for social exchange, relationship building and language development.

(https://www.acecqa.gov.au 2019)

BENEFITS AND CHALLENGES OF RAISING MULTILINGUAL AND BILINGUAL CHILDREN

Suitable for 0-18 years

Raising multilingual or bilingual children is good not only for your children, but also for your family and your community.

Children: benefits of multilingualism and bilingualism
For children, speaking more than one language is often linked to:

  • better academic results – this is because multilingual or bilingual children can often concentrate better, are better at solving problems, understand language structures better, and are better at multitasking
  • more diverse and interesting career opportunities later in life.

Also, if your children grow up speaking more than one language, they might have a better sense of self-worth, identity and belonging. This comes from:

  • feeling good about their heritage
  • feeling confident about communicating and connecting with extended family members and people speaking other languages
  • being able to enjoy music, movies, literature and so on in more than one language.

Families: benefits of multilingualism and bilingualism
For your family, multilingualism and developing your language in your children:

  • improves communication among your family members
  • enhances emotional bonds
  • makes it easier for you and your children to be part of your culture
  • boosts your family’s sense of cultural identity and belonging.

Communities: benefits of multilingualism and bilingualism
For your wider community, when children speak more than one language, it means that:

  • everyone in the community gets a better appreciation of different languages and cultures
  • children can more easily travel and work in different countries and cultures when they grow up
  • children understand and appreciate different cultures.

Possible challenges of raising multilingual and bilingual children

Raising multilingual or bilingual children does have its challenges, including handling pressure to speak only English. It can also sometimes mean a lot of work, and it’s a long-term commitment.

For example, when you’re raising multilingual or bilingual children, you need to:

  • stick with your heritage language, even when there’s pressure to choose English
  • keep yourself and your children motivated to use your heritage languages
  • help your children understand the benefits of multilingualism and bilingualism
  • make sure your children get lots of chances to hear and use their second and other languages
  • talk to your children’s teachers and get their support for your efforts
  • get support for yourself – for example, by talking to friends and family who are raising multilingual or bilingual children and finding resources in your community, like bilingual playgroups.

If you sometimes feel like these challenges are too hard, it might help to think about the benefits of multilingualism – especially the way it can help you and your children develop stronger family bonds. Sharing support, advice and experiences with other parents can also be a big help.

(https://raisingchildren.net.au, 2019)

STACKING AND BUILDING GAMES

Why they’re good for children

Stacking and building games are great for children’s creative learning and problem-solving. Children learn how to balance things to keep a tower upright, practise hand-eye coordination. They introduce children to early numeracy skills like size, height, comparison, order and so on.

What you need for stacking and building games

Your child can build and stack with blocks. Everyday items around the house are good for stacking and building too. These include:

  • plastic containers and cups
  • cardboard boxes
  • small toys
  • dominoes or dice
  • pillows or cushions.

How to play stacking and building games

  • Clear a space large enough for the things your child wants to stack. It might be on the floor for big blocks or boxes, or at the table for smaller stacks.
  • Encourage your child to see how high they can build. Talk about what’s happening. For example, ‘Can you fit another one on?’ or ‘That was a tricky one to balance. Well done’.
  • Describe position and size. For example, ‘You’ve put the big block on top of the small block’.
  • When the tower eventually falls, encourage your child to try again. For example, ‘Crash! That was fun. Can we make it taller this time?’

(https://raisingchildren.net.au, 2020)