Tips for Talking as a Family About War
Bina’s Six Apples takes place during the Korean War, but the trauma and tragedies of war are not a thing of the past. Every day across the globe, families are forced to flee their homes for safety. Ukraine is the most recent example.
While the subject of war is an adult matter, the images and sound bites are everywhere. With the accessibility of mass media in and out of the home, children have or will encounter stories of war taking place today. Children need to process these big ideas to release associated anxiety. Here are a few tactics for tackling those tough conversations.
- Set the Scene – Before approaching the topic, find a comfortable space in the home that represents safety and love. Turn off distractions like mobile phones, television, radio, etc. Make sure you have processed your personal feelings about war, or have a support system in place, so you come to the conversation as calmly as possible. Big feelings might present themselves, and as adults we need to be ready to meet these feelings with loving support.
- Listen – Start by posing one simple question: "what have you heard?" Before launching into explanations about the nuances of war, assess what your child is aware of. Use active listening to validate their thoughts. As your child shares their feelings, repeat them aloud to check for your own understanding. Be aware of what your body language might be broadcasting to your child. Folded arms or turning away can present a sense of shutting down or closing off from the conversation. Stay open and offer a hand to hold or a hug as needed. Take your cues from your kids’ responses. Let them know you agree with them if they are worried or scared, and it is our job as adults to keep our kids safe. Be careful not to go too in depth about your personal anxieties with war as they might project back onto your child.
- Answer – Provide simple and straightforward answers to their questions. Avoid metaphors and euphemisms as they can often be too abstract. Correct any misconceptions about what they have encountered in the media or through peers with facts. Model being a good citizen by avoiding stereotyping people involved in the conflict based on their nationality, race, gender, religion, or ability. And when you don’t have the answer to a question, it is okay to say "I don’t know."
- Move – Sometimes kids just need to be kids. Anxiety can manifest in the body causing physical discomfort, headaches, lethargy, and more. Exercise and fresh air are great antidotes to anxiety and confusion. Take a family walk. Turn on music and dance it out. Invite their buddy on a play date. Do active things that spark joy in your child.
- Create – Art helps kids process big feelings. Invite your child to draw a picture about what they are feeling and wondering. Allow them to describe their art by using the simple prompt, “Tell me about this picture.” This question opens the door for children to share their perspective about the image without the adult mind projecting their own thoughts onto it. Avoid praise phrases like “great picture!” and “good job!” without using specific language. Rather, ask questions about what you see on the page, removing judgmental responses about their artistry. Art is a powerful tool for self-expression.
- Act – War can make many of us feel helpless. Discuss ways you as a family can help those affected by the war. Invite them to take part in an act of support, like writing a letter to your representatives or rallying the neighborhood to raise money for an aid organization. When children see they can have a positive impact, large or small, they understand they are a part of the solution. And as Fred Rogers famously quoted his mother, "Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping."
Picture Books About War and Refugees
When Spring Comes to DMZ by Uk-Bar Lee
The Journey by Francesca Sanna
The Day War Came by Nicola Davies
Lost and Found Cat by Doug Kuntz and Amy Shrodes, illustrated by Sue Corneliso
Pea Pod Lullaby by Glenda Millard
Lubna and Pebble by Wendy Meddour, illustrated by Daniel Egneus
The Breaking News by Sarah Lynne Reul
Helping Children Cope After a Traumatic Event, Child Mind Institute
Terrorism and War: How to Talk to Children, American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry
How to Talk to Children About What’s Happening in Ukraine, American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry