After a week of war in ukraine is inevitable that most children have seen the news about the conflict on television or listen daily to talk about what is happening. Many of them will probably ask themselves questions about the bombings, about the destroyed buildings that appear in the images or about the families that are having to flee their homes, without being able to understand the magnitude of the tragedy. Therefore, it is very important, experts say, broach the subject quietly at home and not let their childish minds be the ones to interpret the catastrophic messages that reach them.
“You have to explain it to him. My message to any parent or educator is to tell them what is happening adapting the language to their age and without scaring them,” psychologist Angélica Tilly tells RTVE.es, who assures that a good number of the minors she attends in her office have made some allusion to the war in recent days. In addition, she has two children (4 and 8 years old) who also ask questions and to whom he always tries to clarify their doubts.
“The little girl came home from school the other day saying that there was a war in Russia. I had to explain to him that it was not in Russia, but that there was a war and that there are Russians. You have to put yourself in the mind of a four-year-old child, and more so in that of a European child because in Europe, between COVID and this, it is now that the feeling of security that existed before is being lost, that here it never happens nothing (…) It is much better let us be the ones to explain it to them; that they know that it is not happening next door and that it is a conflict that began many years ago because the children with the immediacy they are afraid“.
Ask them what they know about the topic and talk about it
Alejandra Fernández Fitera, a child-adolescent and educational psychologist, believes that, even when children do not ask, the subject must be brought up because they may receive information from one side or another and keep it to themselves. “Images are at your fingertips. It’s essential not to omit what’s happening, don’t avoid conversation, even if it’s uncomfortable. The first thing is ask them what they know and listen to them very patiently, letting them talk. This is essential to see how they are perceiving it and it can be put to them like this: ‘At home we are worried about what is on TV. You, how are you living it?’ That is, give them the opportunity to talk about it at home,” he explains.
From then on, depending on what they say, you have to “accompany” them in their reflections and answer all your questions with a different language, depending on the age and maturity of the child.
Usually, from the age of nineThey will probably have already talked about the war at school and will have assimilated some concepts, but it is also convenient to explain the situation to them because it is common that, especially those over 12 years of age, these conflicts are closely associated with video games or movies. At these ages, what the experts suggest is to talk more openly, look for information with them about the origin of the conflict, in 2014, or use explanatory videos and maps that can help them better understand what is happening.
Use age-appropriate language and “dose” the information
Instead, in the case of the smallestalthough it is important to tell them the truth of what is happening, it is essential avoid language that causes alarm or that may cause them distress.
Another child and family psychologist consulted, Alejandra García Pueyo, sees this as very important but also stresses that it is necessary to “dose” the information. It is not, he points out, to isolate them from what is happening or to turn off the television, but he does believe that an overexposure of children to images that even “shock” adults is not good.
The same is the opinion of Mariano De Vena, a psychologist who is also an expert in children and adolescents: “They don’t need to watch a car explode or a bomb in a square and how that makes people run away,” he says.
All four experts agree that empathy is a capacity that develops at a very early age and they assure that it can be especially hard for them to see how other children appear scared or crying on television. Some, moreover, are especially sensitive and these images can cause them great fear or lead to night nightmares.
For this reason, once again, they insist that security must be conveyed to them at all times and, in case you see very tragic imagesit is best to talk to them about their emotions: “If they tell us ‘I’m scared’ or ‘I’m sad’ it is important not to underestimate those emotions, but to sustain them. As adults we can tell them that it is normal and that we may also be feeling the same, but everything from a non-catastrophic approach,” adds Fernández Fitera.
Define what war is for the little ones and answer why it happens
One of the most common and most difficult questions to define, especially in the case of the smallest, is that of “what is war”? The task of defining it for a child becomes even more complicated when it comes to answering why it happens or when they want to know if there are good or bad.
De Vena believes that we must explain to them, in a simple way, that a war is “a conflict between two countries”taking him to examples that may be everyday: “You can tell him that, just as two brothers can have a conflict and fight because each one wants something, when a country and another country have differences, they have problems, they can fight and trigger a war if they don’t talk about it and are very angry.
“Perhaps we can also show them the two countries on the map and tell them that one wants a piece of land and the other does not want to give it to them, and that is why they fight. That is where we can introduce the issue of how to manage conflicts and make it clear that this is not the best way to do it You can ask him, how would you do it? how would you put your solution?“, points out Fernández Fitera, who believes that this can help reinforce the importance of dialogue and understanding.
Tilly also agrees that this is the best approach. From his point of view, it is convenient to make them see that the war has been caused by a lack of agreement instead of telling them that there is “bad people” or enter a more political position, since for young children it will be difficult to understand and they can reach conclusions, he says, that are not the most appropriate.
As De Vena explains, what scares many children the most is that this war could reach them and what he proposes to distance them from that idea is to explain to them that the discussion between Russia and Ukraine “it came from a long time ago” and that SpainInstead, “it is not arguing” with any other country for years. This will reduce their anguish because they will see, she says, that the circumstances are different and that the same thing is not likely to happen here.
Tell them that there is help from other countries and that they are trying to solve it
Tilly points out that some children also ask her “Why Spain and other countries do nothing”? , and believes that, regardless of whether they question it or not, it is good to tell them that there are other countries trying to find a solution and that Spain is also offering help. That is, you have to convey that war is not good and that nobody wants it.
“They have to know that all of Europe is trying to solve it and take the opportunity to tell them that fights are useless, that it is important to talk so that there are agreements and that there will also be agreements between these two countries. If not, they get overwhelmed because they see that there is no solution. Children can be left alone with the bad and we have to try let them stay with the constructive messagethat they come up with good ideas,” says Tilly.
They propose to make them participate in the collection of humanitarian aid
There are also other little ones who ask why are there people who have left their homes. Regarding this, the most important thing, according to the experts, is to talk to them about the protection that other countries are offering them.
“Values such as solidarity and empathy can be worked on. You have to tell them that they are having to leave so that they don’t get hurt while they fight, but that other countries they give them food, diapers or milk (…) It is good that they see how many people have turnedconvey to them that there are many supportive people,” says García Pueyo.
Regarding this, both she and the rest, propose to the parents to make their children participate in some of the initiatives that are emerging to help the Ukrainians: “My daughter has brought food to school, because they are preparing a collection campaign. This is very good because that way she feels that she is part of the solution,” says Tilly about an initiative that she recommends doing to other educational centers and that also the rest of mental health professionals see positively.
“Many children already have a lot feeling of compassion for the sufferer and it is good that somehow they can make up for that suffering. It is good to make them feel useful in helping people who they perceive to be suffering, whether through a drawing, a writing, a donation (even one euro) or a package of macaroni that is given to the disadvantaged. It gives them relief to know that they are doing something for others,” says De Vena.
Drawings, texts or stories can help some little ones
On the other hand, experts point out that there are some children who, because of their personality, may care more than normal for the information they receive. Some may not express their fear verbally but may do so through drawings or games.
“If you want to draw a picture about war or if you want to play war or stage it, no need to worry. It is better to let them do it because it is a way of expressing that discomfort and you have to accompany it. You don’t have to tell him ‘what a horrible drawing’, but ask him: ‘what have you drawn?’ or ‘what are you worried about?'”
García Pueyo believes that if there are especially restless children, they can also be proposed, precisely, to draw a drawing that those who are suffering from the conflict or Write them a letter expressing your wishes. In addition, it suggests that parents look for a children’s story that deals with the theme of war.
After sharing his advice, De Vena explains that the children have had to get used to it in the last two years to a less friendly context than the one before 2020; First, the pandemic (with confinement, curfews or masks), and now a war that, although physically far from them, they feel close to because of the presence it has in the media or in adult conversations.
In this sense, he points out that any negative event, “depending on how it is approached or how it is resolved”, can be “empowering” for the child: “If he ends up feeling more relieved after talking about it, understanding it, when it all ends in the future, he still digests much better the feeling of anger or helplessness that other situations in life can generate”, explains the psychologist, underlining once plus the importance that parents do not avoid the subject, “as if nothing happened”.
“Tolerating adversity, managing frustrations and living through situations of this type that are so unpleasant, within the bad, can strengthen them and encourage them to harden, so to speak; it can help them develop a response system to future events and that they are less ‘soft’ in order to deal with personal problems in the future”, concludes the psychologist.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.