Excerpt from recent article by Beth Tyson, Childhood Trauma Therapist, www.bethtyson.com
Nobody wants to talk to young children about the violence in our world, and I get it. As a trauma therapist, I fall into a small category of people who are willing to broach these subjects with little ones. I don’t do it because it’s any easier for me than for you. I do it because I know from experience they will likely find out anyway, and sitting alone with this information can be harmful.
One of the biggest problems I see with children learning about violence is not knowing it exists. They usually already know that. The biggest problem is that they hear inaccurate information, and then their imagination kicks in and creates more stories. They often learn bits and pieces of what’s going on from different sources and can mistakenly believe that the conflict is taking place in their community or country. The truth of our world is painful, but we can’t always shield our children from discovering the horrific truth (as much as we would like to).
Shockingly, children as young as Kindergarten are talking about the war in Israel and Gaza at school this week, and yet they don’t have the developmental skills to understand what this means for their lives unless we talk to them about it.
HOW TO TALK TO CHILDREN ABOUT WAR
- Find out what they know. It can be helpful to check in with our children this week and ask, “Have you heard anything upsetting at school this week?” If they say yes, ask them to tell you more. If they say no, then gently let them know that you will check in with them occasionally because stories are often shared at school, and you want to make sure they have the facts.
- Validate their feelings about it. It is scary to learn that horrible things happen in the world. Let your children know it’s natural to feel nervous or angry about what they heard. It’s okay to cry, whine more than usual, and be irritable throughout the day.
- Share how you feel, but don’t lean on a child for support. Children take their cues from us. They pick up on our facial expressions, tone of voice, and body language like tiny emotional detectives.
- Be a helper. Taking action can empower children in hopeless situations. For example, they could make a poster supporting peace to hang up at school, or your family could donate money to support those impacted by the violence. Doing something kind for others is one of the fastest ways to mitigate hopelessness.
- Admit you don’t have all the answers. Honesty and transparency are paramount in our relationship with children. So instead of making up falsehoods when they ask an unanswerable question, we can say, “I don’t have all the answers. I don’t know what will happen next. Life is sometimes uncertain and scary. But what I do know is that I will keep you updated with everything I find out, and I will always be here to talk to you about what is happening in the world.