So let us take a moment to reflect on best practices for talking with children and teens about tragedies, in particular the current tragedy the world is experiencing — the war in Ukraine. How can we answer their questions about what is happening in the news in ways that will not overwhelm them? How can the adults who are closest to them provide guidance in ways that will keep them calm and feeling safe?
Each one of us has the ability to offer this support. For those with children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, and others they may care for, these children and youth need you to be present with them during times when they have experienced or seen violent or frightening images in the media. They will remember and be calmed by the presence of those they are closest to more than any words that are shared.
When words need to be spoken, be sure not to talk the children and youth out of or deny what they are feeling. Straight-forward, simple answers to their questions will allow them to process their feelings. And be careful of saying anything young children might take literally, such as using the phrase, “They passed away,” instead of “they died,” or “they were killed.” Children comprehend the concept of death more than we tend to give them credit for.
Using statements that begin with “I wonder…” and inviting the child to wonder aloud about what they are thinking and feeling allow both of you to process the event without going into too much unnecessary detail for the child. Statements such as “I wonder how God is helping the victim(s) right now,” and “I wonder how the soldier felt when…” may be helpful in working through the details.
Engaging the child in a processing activity such as planting flowers or a tree, playing with people figures, or drawing a picture or some other artistic creation is also a good way to help them process their feelings.
If you are seeing that your teens are in need of some conversation around this issue, scrap what you had planned and provide space for them to voice their fears and concerns. You may also choose to invite someone from your community who is connected to Ukraine to come and speak to your teens.
Your presence and your actions will help children and teens to know that God loves them and is always with them, and will ensure that they will more successfully navigate the tough times and events that they will inevitably experience as they grow older.
I encourage you to visit the Faith Formation Team’s webpage, Talking With Children and Teens About Tough Issues, which provides links for parents, caregivers, and others to help them talk with children and teens about violence, death, and war.
Many thanks to Rev. Jennie Valentine for her addition of a resource to use with families on the war in Ukraine.
Debbie Gline Allen serves as a Minister of Faith Formation on the Conference’s Faith Formation Ministry Team. She also serves as the administrator of the SNEUCC Faith Formation Leadership Program. Her passion for ministry is with children and family...