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Parents having conversation with teenage child.

Tips for Parents on Discussing War with Kids, Teens

There are many times in life that children, families, and communities experience conflict, whether it’s locally or internationally. The recent invasion of Ukraine has caused much unrest and unpredictability. Children and teens who are aware of what’s happening may feel concern, fear, anger, confusion, or apathy.

As parents, providers, and educators, we have our own emotions as well. We can view conflict as an opportunity to teach compassion and empathy with a focus on humanitarian efforts. We can help a young person build self-efficacy by taking deliberate actions to restore a sense of personal safety and help others.

In general, all children need our attention. However, there are large numbers of military connected youth in our area who may have heightened concerns about safety at this time. Whenever children and their families who are connected to the military become directly impacted by instability, war, or unrest, they need extra attention. Our responses to all of them begin with observing and listening. Offer age-appropriate and concrete information as needed. Let children and teens know efforts to deescalate and prevent further violence are happening.

Here are some age-specific guidelines in line with recommendations from the National Child Traumatic Stress Network:

For young children:

Parents and providers can act as a buffer. Limit exposure to media and help young children make sense of anything they have heard from older children or siblings. Reassure them that they are safe and provide routines as usual to support a sense of security.

For school-age children:

Help children understand the seriousness of war and reinforce that our country’s leaders and other world leaders are working together to support the safety of our allies, while trying to resolve the conflict. Help them develop self-efficacy by helping in some way, perhaps writing a letter to the Department of Defense, or sending a note to military personnel to thank them for their service.

For adolescents:

Adolescents often realize the seriousness of war and unrest in the larger world and may be thinking about their own future and their present safety. Listen to their thoughts and opinions and help them to articulate their concerns. Having an open dialogue about what they are seeing in the media and hearing from peers is critical to help them process any information that seems overwhelming. Provide opportunities for them to take well-thought-out actions. They can learn valuable lessons regarding humanitarian efforts and conflict resolution. For example, they can research and write about the history of the region currently involved, rather than share social media posts that are inflammatory or untrue.

Whenever faced with stressful times, it is important for families to spend time together and for parents, providers, and educators to create a climate of caring in which children feel comfortable asking questions and having their concerns validated. Think about your formal or informal supports during tough times. Who are your go-to people when you feel distressed? Many families depend on their school, church, neighborhood, or extended family connections for support. Make a list and reach out. It is important for us and for our children and teens to know that they are surrounded by people who care about their well-being at all times.

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About Michele Tryon, CCLS

About Michele  Tryon, CCLS Michele Tryon, CHKD community outreach coordinator and parent educator has worked with children and families for 30 years, providing services in the hospital, home, school and community setting. Michele is a Certified Child Life Specialist, a Certified Positive Discipline™ parent educator, a nationally recognized trainer/consultant for Nurturing Parenting Programs™ and co-author of The Nurturing Program for Parents and Their Children with Special Needs and Health Challenges©.