by Mark D. Lerner, Ph.D.
Chairman, National Center for Emotional Wellness
CEO & Creator, TruthJava.com
When it comes to speaking with children about the harsh reality of war, it is crucial to find the right balance between honesty and shielding them from unnecessary trauma. We must tell children the truth at a developmentally appropriate level, considering their unique level of emotional development. This means providing them with information that they can understand and process without overwhelming them. The key is to be truthful without sharing every detail, as this can lead to unnecessary fear and anxiety.
In times of conflict, it is essential to assure children that they are safe, but only if they truly are. Children look up to the adults in their lives, seeking reassurance and guidance. If parents and caretakers constantly express fear and insecurity, children may internalize these emotions and become overly anxious. By presenting a sense of calm and confidence, children are more likely to feel secure and protected.
It is also important to recognize that children will take their cues from the adults around them. How we present ourselves in front of children can greatly influence how they interpret and respond to the situation. It is natural for children to feel a wide range of emotions during times of war, whether it be fear, sadness, or anger. As adults, we should acknowledge and validate these feelings, letting children know that their emotions are normal responses to the abnormal events happening around them.
While it is important to stay informed about what is happening in the world, it is crucial to limit the amount of news coverage children are exposed to. Constantly bombarding them with images and stories of war can be overwhelming and lead to increased anxiety. Instead, parents should try to watch the news privately or when children are not present. This way, we can filter the information they receive and protect them from unnecessary distress.
Discussing the importance of truth and accountability is another crucial aspect of talking to children. Emphasize that wars are complex situations that involve people with differing beliefs and that it is crucial to search for accurate information from reliable sources. Teach children the importance of questioning and critically analyzing the information they come across, encouraging them to form their own opinions based on reputable facts.
Having open and honest conversations with children about war is essential, but it must be done in a way that considers their emotional development. Providing an appropriate level of information, assuring their safety, and modeling calmness are crucial for their well-being. Limiting their exposure to news coverage, discussing the importance of truth and accountability, and encouraging them to ask questions will also help children navigate this challenging topic. By being thoughtful in our approach, we can help our children understand the complexities of war while still maintaining their innocence and providing them with the support they need during such challenging times.