Talking About Difficult Topics with Children and Teens
Your news feed may be filled with horrifying stories regarding the invasion of Ukraine. It is our impulse to shield our children from difficult topics, but often children learn about topics from overhearing adults conversing, observing adults’ reactions, watching snippets of news stories playing in the background, or seeing photos on social media.
It is important to speak with our children about their concerns and questions circling violence and loss, in order to provide accurate information, help kids process intense feelings, and to offer reassurance that we will keep them safe.
How do you talk to children and teens about difficult topics that are even challenging for adults to process?
Meet your child where they are. Offer a developmentally appropriate explanation of events that is truthful (i.e., building destroyed, people hurt). For elementary age children, it may simply be stating that there is a war between two countries, Ukraine and Russia, and asking your child if they have heard anything or have any questions about the situation. With older children you might highlight information or stories they have been exposed to (e.g., picture on the front of the news paper, scene on the television), and ask your child what they know about the situation and what questions they have. Maintain close proximity, eye contact, and rephrase their concerns and ideas to convey you are listening and maintain feelings of security.
Check in with their feelings. Ask them how this information makes them feel and what worries or concerns they have.
Be honest with your feelings and reactions. “Seeing that news story made me cry. I am so sad this is happening to those families. I am sad and worried, but I know there are many helpers in this world and we will get through this.”
Leave the door open for communication. “If you have questions about what is happening, or want to share your thoughts and feelings about it, I want you to know you can come and talk to me. I am always hear to listen and talk things out, even when things are tricky or uncomfortable."
Provide comfort. Children may question their own safety, the safety of others in their life, and how the situation will impact their lives. Offer reassure that they are safe and you will always do everything you can to keep them safe. Address any changes that may happen due to the event.
Mind your media. Perhaps most importantly, be mindful of the intensity and frequency of media coverage exposure to disturbing news and images. This is especially true for toddlers and young children.
Other great resources for talking with children and teens about difficult topics include: NASP's Talking to Children About Violence