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'Above all, provide them reassurance': How to talk to your kids about Ukraine

CHI Health experts provide tips
Posted at 9:55 AM, Feb 26, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-26 10:55:31-05

OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — Smoke billowing over city skylines, huddled masses of Ukrainians fleeing a warzone and fathers kissing their children goodbye as they prepare to defend their homes.

The images of war are taking over our screens, both large and small. And for a generation of children with nearly unlimited access to social media and a 24-hour news cycle, the effects on their wellbeing can be devastating.

“I’ve has several patients this week, teenagers, who are asking me for a reason to live,” said CHI Health Mental Health Therapist Tim Hron. “They’re losing hope in what’s going on in our world.”

Hron said it’s important for parents to limit what their kids are seeing right now.

“It can be very traumatic,” Hron said. “Any visual images of violence are traumatic to most people but especially to young people who are trying to understand what that image is about.”

But parents should not shy away from conversations about what’s happening in Europe because children will be hearing about it at school, on social media and from their peer groups.

“It’s important that they have access to information and be able to ask questions to their parents, which is a trusted adult in their life,” Hron said.

These conversations need to be age-appropriate.

For younger children, Hron says they may not understand that what they’re seeing and hearing about is far away, and they need to be told they are not in danger.

“Above all provide them reassurance,” Hron said. “‘ Things are going to be okay. You’re safe. We’re going to take it as it comes.’”

These younger kids may need to express how they’re feeling in nonverbal ways, through arts or play; this could include showing anger or sadness.

For older kids and teenagers, Hron said it’s okay to have more direct conversations and ask them what they’re thinking.

“I’m certain that schools are talking about that, especially in their history classes and those types of things. Which is a good thing because it’s a learning opportunity but at the same time we got to stay hopeful,” Hron said. “That’s the thing that we don’t want to lose- is hope.”

Hron said parents can lead by example. By sharing some of their fears about the situation and letting their children know they’re not alone in their feelings.

“You might not want to get too graphic with it. But it’s important to show empathy,” Hron said. “‘Hey this is happening in our world and we’re concerned so let’s talk about it.’”

He also said parents can lead by example by setting their own boundaries with social media and news.

“I think it’s important for them to role model staying engaged with what’s happening in our world, but not completely focusing on it and spending extended periods of time engaged with it,” Hron said.

Spending time with family and finding ways to volunteer locally can help keep feelings of helplessness at bay for young people.

Children will likely express distress during this time, but it’s important to know when to seek professional help.

Hron said if a child is isolating, seems unlike themselves or is having troubles functioning at home or school, parents should talk with their doctors.

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