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Talking to Your Kids About War

The recent conflicts, along with the steady stream of disturbing images and intense commentary, have been enough to send most adults into a mental spiral of anxiety, anger, and confusion. What’s even harder is thinking about how we are going to explain what’s happening to our students when we don’t really understand it ourselves. The students in our homes and small groups, more than likely, are taking bits and pieces of whatever they’ve heard, overheard, and the images they’ve seen, and they’re forming their own mental pictures and conclusions about what’s happening. So, how do we talk to our kids about war? Here are two places to start:

Be present.

The best thing we can do as parents, caregivers, and trusted adults is to be truly present in the middle of the uncertainty. Be actively present when it comes to discussions about Ukraine and a ready support system that offers a safe, calm, open space for your student to express their emotions and questions - in whatever way that needs to happen for them. Listen…and listen some more! You don’t need to have all the answers, thankfully, because none of us do when it comes to what’s happening in Ukraine right now. Thankfully, there is so much help and hope that results from just coming alongside someone you care about and listening to their concerns with compassion, support and authentic interest, as they sort through their own mental and emotional struggles related to this issue.

Focus on what's true.

Helping your student know what to focus on as they navigate through the topic of war will go a long way in preventing them from becoming fixated or stuck in hopelessness and fear, which the media feeds often facilitate. Two of the best antidotes to neutralize the effects of fear are facts and hope.

While we definitely have to confront the reality of uncertainty with current world events, we must be deliberate and intentional about focusing even more on the reality of Hope that we have as followers of Jesus. Whatever you are paying the most attention to, wherever you have the volume turned up the loudest, whatever direction your eyes are turned is where your focus will be. We must choose to focus our attention on the hope and security we have as children of God and choose to keep our eyes fixed on Him, even when we are bombarded with messages of fear and uncertainty.

Focus on facts:

  • Focus on Faith - God is bigger than anything and He is in control!

  • Ask & Assure - Ask good questions and assure them of your love and support.

Focus on hope:

  • Helpers - Look for them! They are everywhere! Fred Rogers said, “If you look for the helpers, you’ll know that there’s hope.” Identify as many helpers as you can in the current conflict.

  • Prayer & Verses - Hope is found when we talk to God and read His Word!

  • Emotional Awareness - Identifying feelings and what to do about them!

Please don’t hesitate to contact a school counselor or a professional counselor in your community if you feel like your student is having difficulty processing their emotions related to the war in Ukraine or is in need of extra support and resources.

Finally, check in with students that may have a family member or someone they love that is currently in the military serving our country or that has been injured from serving our country in previous conflicts. These students are often well equipped with a strong poker face and may need some extra margin and support, in order to let down their guard regarding the implications that a potential war would have on their family.

Note: Students that have a history of traumatic experiences / events / losses may have more difficulty processing these events or remaining stuck on the images seen on TV or messages they hear about what is happening in Ukraine and Russia. They may begin to struggle in various areas, particularly around issues related to safety, vulnerability, control, and responsibility.

For More Tips on How to Help your child process difficult events:

Many students tend to be more conversational when they are moving or have a minor distraction to focus on, especially when it comes to awkward or tense subject matters. That being said, it might be helpful to talk to your student about the war in Ukraine while you are driving them somewhere. Or better yet, take a 15 minute walk together! The younger the student, the more likely it is that they will best process their emotions through play and hands-on practical application with brief verbal interaction about the subject. High school students, on the other hand, will tend to process these events more verbally, in order to rationalize, understand and form opinions, as well as regulate their emotional responses.

Here are some activities to help get conversations started:

  • Feelings Faces Worksheets - There are lots of free printable versions online. Have them point or put a magnet by the face that best depicts how they are feeling that day. Reach out to the Student Ministry Staff at LCBC Church to get a feelings wheel from our emotions series!

  • Feelings Game - Write down as many different emotions as you can think of and put them on scraps on paper. Have your student pick a feeling out of a bag and act it out while others guess the emotion. Then, ask your student what tools can be used to help them express or manage that emotion in an appropriate way.

  • Quick Cues: These are simple, non-verbal ways your student can communicate how they are feeling about the news. These are especially useful for younger students that may struggle with feeling overwhelmed quickly by their emotions or the news,
    • Red / Yellow / Green light - You can use a magnet or any image with that color to help communicate how they are handling their emotions or the news that day.

    • Emoji faces or the emoji thumb up, down, or neutral position to indicate how they are feeling about the news that day.

  • Draw the Ukrainian flag and learn a little bit about the Ukrainian culture, such as food, holidays, customs etc.

2. LISTEN

Students will have different fears and points of focus than adults. Don’t assume you know what they are or aren’t afraid of. The details that they are stuck or focused on may surprise you. The younger your student, the more room there is for misinterpretation, personalization, and distortion of the messages they are receiving about world events. Being a good listener goes a long way in understanding how your student is coping with this world event. Practice listening by asking your student these questions.

  • "What do you think about ______?” “How do you feel about it?” “How does that make you feel?” “Tell me more about ______ !”

  • “Do you have any questions about what you’ve seen / heard?”

  • “What do you need to do about it?” “How are you going to respond?” “How can you be a Helper?”

  • “What are you hearing in school and from friends about what’s happening in Ukraine right now?” “What do you think about that?”

  • “What tough things have you seen other people make it through?” “What did they do or rely on that helped?” "Where / who were the helpers in that situation?”

  • “When have we / you made it through tough times in the past?” “How?”

  • If your student expresses anger at Russia, ask “How do you think the Russian people feel about what’s happening?” “Do you think every Russian agrees with this invasion?“ “Are there reasons they may need some compassion and prayer as well?”

  • If your student asks “Is this WWIII?,” respond with a question to help clarify what exactly they are asking. “What do you mean by WWIII?” “What does it mean if WWIII happens?” "So, what do you think will happen if WWIII does start?” “What about this situation makes you think that may happen?”

ACT

Action is essential because it helps us cope with our emotions better. Instead of becoming stuck in uncertainty, action helps us focus on what we can control vs what we can’t. What we have the most control over is ourselves and our actions!

  • Pray for the Ukrainians. Pray for the helpers, pray for the leaders in government, the Ukrainian soldiers and those families (both Ukrainian and Russian) that have lost loved ones. Let your student make a list of what areas they think need prayer in this situation and maybe even encourage them to make a prayer chart for a specific need or concern that they want to pray about each day of the week.

  • Raise money and donate online to Samaritan’s Purse. This is a well known, international Christian organization that focuses on disaster relief. S.P. currently has an Emergency Field Hospital and 3 medical clinics in Ukraine to help the injured and wounded.

  • Make cards for the people in Ukraine
    • Send them to Samaritan’s Purse for them to hand out at their medical facilities or to thank the doctors and nurses that are helping the people that have been injured.

    • Letters can also be mailed to “Letters of Hope”. This project ships and will distribute your letters to Ukrainian refugees in Poland. Cards can be mailed to Laura McMurry, Letters of Hope, P.O. Box 2, Shelby, MI. 49455. 

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