Just when we thought we could take a sigh of relief with COVID cases receding, another crisis knocked down our doors in the form of the Russia-Ukraine conflict.
With children finally adapting to the new normal with the discomfort of face masks, the new crisis has thrown children and adults alike into a whirlwind of emotions. With media, television, and all kinds of screens being integral parts of our lives, children are always somewhat aware of the chaos and catastrophic events around the world. As per child psychologists, children have the ability to sense the worries, anxieties, and fears of their parents and the people around them, even without any expression in words. So do we sweep the issue under the rug? Or talk frankly about it?
Research suggests a middle ground, which could help children deal with the uncertainties in a healthy manner.
Here are a few ways to help children process their feelings, healthily:
Permission To Feel
Children express their feelings differently, depending upon their age or experience. Younger children find it difficult to express their feelings, so they often complain of a stomach ache or headache. A crying child needs to be comforted and feel loved. So questions like ‘What is on your mind?’ or ‘How can I help you?’ might help the child open up. Empowering your child with feeling words can also help them vent. Normalise fear and anxiety. Children learn to respond by looking at how adults around them do. Instead of saying things like ‘Don’t be afraid’ or ‘Don’t worry’, we need to empathise with our child’s feelings with words like ‘I understand’ or ‘it scares me too’.
Children should be allowed to feel a wide variety of feelings, without labelling them as positive or negative emotions. They should know that all feelings are okay, and all that matters is how we choose to act upon them. Psychologists say that when we say words like ‘Don’t be afraid’ or ‘Don’t worry’, children start locking up their feelings inside, which causes havoc to their mental and physical wellbeing. Hence, instead of taking away your child’s fears or anxieties, talking about them will at least help them feel heard.
Adults should also share their feelings and emotions appropriately with children, without sensualising events such as the Ukraine crisis. Strive not to say ‘I am terrified/horrified’, even if you feel that way. Phrases like, ‘I feel upset, right now’, ‘I am worried about the people concerned’, ‘I am scared too’, and so on, should be put to use instead.
Sharing Information About War
Sometimes, incomplete information causes undue worry. It is important as a parent/ teacher/grandparent to be well versed with the situation. You can show children a world map and teach them facts about Ukraine and Russia, and their culture, to help them understand the facts. As per your child’s age, you can talk about the history of each country and inform them, and give an overview of why they are in conflict. When children know that their parents can help them understand uncertainties, they won’t hesitate to come to their parents when they feel overwhelmed. Even things as simple as sharing low grades, relationship problems, conflict with friends, and so on, that seem impossible to get past at the time, will stop hindering their growth.
Avoid vilifying entire groups of people such as political groups, countries, and ideologies. Children take generalisation seriously, which could ruin their worldview.
Train Children To Take Action
Parents, teachers, and other guardians need to find ways to train children to do their bit, to make the world a better place. A 6 or 12-year-old can’t do much for the Ukraine crisis directly. Nonetheless, they can do their bit by contributing to the welfare of society, which becomes a stepping stone to creating a better world. Acts of kindness, however small, go a long way in spreading happiness. Inculcating practices such as feeding pets, donating clothes to the underprivileged, treating everyone with respect, give children a sense of control and contribution towards the wellbeing of humanity. In simple words, they lead from the front, as compassionate soldiers.
Manage Media Intake
Conversing about difficult emotions with children can help them process their emotions and put things in perspective. At the same time, children are quick learners and absorb information like a sponge. Therefore, it is imperative to keep tabs on your child’s media intake. As adults, we need to be mindful of what we are playing on the television when children are around. For older children, monitoring their social media feed from time to time can be significant.
Power Of Affirmations
“When repeated regularly and consistently, affirmations have been associated with helping one feel more empowered, in control, and more confident in believing that our dreams and our aspirations are achievable,” says Ed Greene, an expert in child development.
In today’s uncertain world, using affirmations at the beginning of the day or before bedtime, influences children’s thoughts and behaviours. Adults should also practice positive affirmations alongside children. It boosts self-confidence, and promotes optimism and safety. Affirmations can be chosen for children to adopt values like family, friends, academic goals, creative outlets, hobbies or sports. For example:
- I can do anything I put my mind to.
- My skin is beautiful.
- I am capable of helping others.
- I have great ideas.
Sometimes, a lot of hype is created about things like a war or a pandemic. We need to understand that our children are not the only ones growing in the midst of crises. The way young people are consuming news and world events is extremely new. It is all the more important for children to be adequately informed and reassured by trusted adults to process their feelings. Ultimately by having conversations with your child, you open lines of communication for them to discuss difficult topics without hesitation, and be prepared for a fruitful adulthood.