When conflict and war are featured in the news on a daily basis, it is unsettling for everyone, but particularly so for children. Young people often react with fear and confusion as they try to make sense of what is happening in the world around them.
The current conflict with the Russian invasion of Ukraine has been at the forefront of current news worldwide. Seeing such stories circulate can naturally lead children to bring up questions and their worries about what they’ve seen or heard. As adults, we can often find these conversations difficult for fear of distressing a child further and sometimes we feel the need to protect them from issues or stories that even we may find challenging to think about. However, it is important to allow children the space to discuss their feelings.
Below are some tips on navigating difficult topics like this with a child, enabling you to be supportive and understanding of any worries they may have.
Check in to see what they know and how they feel about it.
Children discover the news in many different ways including at school and from friends. Every child will have a different response to what they’re seeing or hearing; some may be noticeably upset and voice their worries, while others may be curious and want to know more about what is happening to help them process and understand it. Following their lead in the conversation can help establish those boundaries and allow you to support the discussion appropriately.
Tailor the conversation to their age.
Children of all ages may see and experience distressing news, or hear stories, and how you discuss that with them differs based on their age. For example, for a very young child, keeping terms simple and brief will help their understanding of the world, whereas an older child may look at the history and background of current events.
Recommend child-focused news channels.
If a child wants to find out more, use child-friendly news. There are several news websites tailored specifically to children, including CBBC Newsround, which offers short, age-appropriate, articles written in an easily digestible way and doesn’t include graphic content.
Allow space for questions and be honest if you don’t know.
When discussing difficult topics, it can be tempting to avoid questions or bend the truth for fear of causing further distress. It will be of more help to be as honest as possible. It is also okay if you do not know the answer, and if a child is interested, you could investigate finding the answer together.
Reassure and let them know it is normal to be concerned.
All children want to know that they are safe and look to adults for that reassurance. The best way to support this can be by acknowledging everyone can feel worried, even you, and to discuss distressing topics openly and honestly.
Focus on the positive.
It is important for a child to know that people are helping each other, and that there is hope and kindness in the middle of conflict. Share positive stories with them where possible. See if the child would like to do something to help, participate in a local fundraiser or join a petition. The sense of doing something, even something small, can often bring great comfort to a child.
Here at Doorstep Library we know that books are a great way of helping us talk about things. It can be really helpful for children to read stories which touch on difficult topics, helping them to work through their feelings.
Last month we shared a blog for Children’s Mental Health Awareness Week with a number of fantastic book titles that can help children to deal with feelings of anxiety, stress or depression.
Here we offer some additional children’s book titles, focusing specifically on the topic of war and conflict, that can help support your discussions.
We have also listed some helpful news channels below, some free and some paid for, which might be useful.