As adults around the world watch Russia invade Ukraine, threatening to unleash what many fear will be the largest war in Europe since 1945, and which is speculated to have a global impact on the price of food, fuel, and metal, our kids are listening to our discussions, and watching the news while being bombarded by videos on TikTok.
Children over 12 are beginning to have more awareness of what’s going on around them and older ones, after 15, start to think about the future and death in more detail, so it’s essential that we are there for our children. They are our future.
What can you do as a parent right now?
- If the news triggers too much anxiety, turn off the TV; not because it isn’t important to know what is happening in the world, but if events affect you and your children too emotionally, and you are no longer able to carry on with normal life, you have to stop bombarding yourself with information and checking news feeds every 10 minutes.
Yes, we should worry, but we don’t have to stop living.
It is of primary importance that you, as a parent, work on your emotional state: what you are feeling right now? Is it based on facts and useful? Can’t you do anything anymore because you are constantly thinking about that situation, or are you moving on with your life?
- Your role as a parent is to set an example, and the relationship you have today with your child is the same they will have with other people when they grow up. Ask yourself, “What message am I giving my child?” If you think of the pandemic, for example: how did you live with it? What message did you give to your child? Did they become fearful and nervous? Did they lock themselves in the house? Or was it a tough time, but one that didn’t stop them from carrying on with their life?
It is important that you, as a parent, ask yourself: how am I coping? How do I feel? Am I too anxious and afraid? How am I talking about the war in the house?
- Kids watching TikTok are bombarded with loads of information and videos about the air strikes. The problem is that they can see more than ten of these videos a minute! When the brain sees repetitive images, it can no longer distinguish between imagination and the real world. So if the brain sees the same image of the bombings from multiple perspectives , it thinks that there were 10 different bombings, instead of just one. (N.B.: this is just an example. We do not know the number of actual bombings that took place). Talking to your children about what has just been said is essential. Watch these videos together. Ask them how they are experiencing the situation.
Also remind them that there is a lot of fake news out there that can create a very scary or distorted view of the situation.
The negative impact of hearing information from an unreliable source is that children form opinions and ideas based on misinformation.
- Remember that fear is contagious. If people are afraid, they try to instil that fear in others in order to feel less alone and to have company with whom they can feed the fear by imagining the worst scenarios.
- Talk to your children. What do they know about the war? What information do they have? What are they being taught in school? Do they really know the full story, or have they become victims of an over-simplified conflict between good and bad? The war did not come like a bolt from the blue. It is the result of a series of geopolitical events that have been going on for years!
- Ask questions. If your children are over 13, watch TV together, and discuss what they have already seen. Give your children space to formulate their own opinions. They are of an age at which it is very productive to talk with them and understand what they think. Nobody knows the whole truth, but our kids can be influenced very easily. Opinions are just opinions. The truth must be sought out and not taken for granted. There is never an absolute truth, but many and different truths.
- If they DON’T want to talk about it, that’s okay. Some sensitive kids can be captivated and frightened by this news, others less so.
- Remember to take care of yourself and your family. We cannot influence what happens thousands of miles from home. We can send good energy to the Russians and Ukrainians. We can help with gestures of charity and aid, while making sure that we remain on good terms with each other at home and continue living our lives as normal.
Anxiety is contagious; but calm is also contagious.