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How to Talk to Children and Teenagers About War and Conflicts?

Nowadays, we live events that can be difficult to explain to the little ones. Here are some tips for talking to children and teenagers about war and other conflicts.

Mother and daughter lying on a bed

Photo: Pexels

LatinAmerican Post | Vanesa López Romero

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Leer en español: ¿Cómo hablar con niños y adolescentes sobre la guerra y los conflictos?

The world has its eyes on the current conflict between Russia and Ukraine. However, not everyone fully understands the reasons why something like this is happening. If for adults this can be complicated, especially with the big amount of information in the media and social networks, for the little ones it is even more so.

Despite their age, children and adolescents are smart enough to understand these types of events, but talking to them about it can be difficult. Therefore, if you are thinking of explaining this topic to a child or adolescent around you, here are some tips for you to do it in the best way.

These tips are based on studies and recommendations from international psychological associations such as the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, the National Traumatic Stress Network, and the American Psychological Association.

Before we begin, why is it important to discuss these topics?

These types of events have a direct impact on the people who live in the places where the events take place, but also on the relatives of the people who live there, on the migrants who are in other countries and even on those who perhaps have nothing to do with the conflict, they listen to the news and have mixed feelings.

Emotions such as fear, anxiety, worry or anger are the most common in these cases  And these emotions are not alien to children. It is very important that they have a safe space to speak, understand and discuss the facts without fear of feeling judged.

Likewise, it is not a secret that children and adolescents can access all kinds of information through social networks, so doubts or misunderstandings may arise. It is, then, our responsibility to guide them to consume this type of content in a conscious and responsible way. Also, keep in mind that this can have an impact on your mental and emotional health. In this regard, it is essential that from an early age they develop critical skills and learn to do emotional regulation.

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How to talk about it?

  • You go first: make sure you have processed your emotions, opinions and positions on the subject before starting a conversation with a child or adolescent. You can confuse him more if you are not clear about how you feel about it.

  • Start the conversation: the child or adolescent may have already had contact with some type of information on the subject but has not yet asked an adult about it, just as they may not know anything yet but will eventually find out. You initiate the conversation, ask him if he knows anything about what is happening.

  • Do not pressure them: perhaps this topic can touch delicate fibers in the minor, since this type of event usually reminds one of his own loss or trauma, creating a safe environment where questions can be asked and answered should go hand in hand with do not force the child to talk about it.

  • Ask, don't assume: older people usually assume how a child is feeling or not, but everyone is different and it is always better to ask before assuming. Ask questions like: “how do you feel about this?” instead of “do you feel sad?”

  • Be careful with the vocabulary: use words that the child can easily understand. Make analogies or use examples that can help bring the topic to a level where the child can feel comfortable.

  • Answer questions clearly and honestly: these types of events are accompanied by information that can be difficult to process, but in no way should you lie to children. The best thing will always be to find a way to explain a concept, no matter how difficult it may be, honestly. For this you have to take the time and be willing to answer any more questions that may arise.

  • Do not hide how you feel: empathy is the most necessary in these scenarios and a great way to develop it in the child is by reminding him that he is not the only one who feels this way. Talk about how you're feeling, what's bothering you, and let him walk with you. However, make him feel that he is in a safe environment.