It is becoming impossible to turn on a television without hearing talk of war in Ukraine, sounds of warning sirens, and seeing the grotesque images of dead bodies spread out on the ground next to sobbing families and friends who are holding loved ones for the last time. I am a battle-scarred adult who has increasing difficulty with the reality of these images and sounds. As this is painful for me, it is much more so for children.
Clients are asking me how to manage their children's exposure to the violence in Ukraine.....the wounds, the blood, the bodies without limbs. I let them know that conversations about current wartime circumstances should be age-appropriate. It would be my preference to protect children from some realities but in this age of cell phones, small laptops, and portable televisions, it is realistic to assume that most children are aware of the ravages of war. They ask why. For the youngest of them, it is best to tell them that people do not always agree about the best way to do things. You can explain that when people disagree they sometimes argue, yell, scream or shout and that, at times, they fight. Leave out the gory details. You can further explain that the fighting is not close to where they live and that they are safe.
Do not force the conversation if they do not ask. When they do, find out what information they may already have. What have they watched on television? Do their friends talk about the war? What do their teachers say? You can recognize that there are some bad people, but emphasize that there are many.
Restrict the media coverage of very young children. This is not too difficult to do with children in the first or second grade. Explain that there are some bad people but there are good people too - people like police officers, doctors, and nurses. encourage older children to feel sympathy and concern. Let them know that they can be an important part of making things better by volunteering time to donate food, providing shelter, and giving up some pocket change to provide for others in need. Teaching compassion is always appropriate.
When you are aware that your children are watching television news, watch it with them so you can see their reactions to the ever occurring "Breaking News." When children appear to be extremely fearful, bothered, or show signs of nervousness like poor sleep or low appetite, it may be time to consider counseling. According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, you may notice fear, numbing, or even some copycat activity.
Stay aware of what your children are watching. Even when it may be unhealthy, the media is aware that violent news sells. Several years ago I worked for a television station in Michigan where the motto was "If It Bleeds, It Leads." Let us be aware instead that "If we are to attain real peace in this world, we shall have to begin with the children." (Mahatma Gandhi)