Our Kids Are Paying Attention: How to Support Them During the War in Ukraine and Other Tragic Events

Each morning we awake to the news of more suffering and devastation across the world. In Ukraine, we see images of children, parents, and elders fleeing for their lives from homes they may never return to. We watch as hundreds of civilian lives are lost, homes and livelihoods destroyed, and a humanitarian crisis deepens every hour.

When tragic events happen across the world or in our local communities, it can be difficult for us all to find ways of understanding and coping. Young children need support from the adults in their lives as they try to make sense of what they are hearing, seeing, and experiencing.

And for some families, these tragedies are compounded by the presence of racism, which makes it even more difficult to explain to young children. 

In a March 1st blog for Parents.com, A. Rochaun Meadows-Fernandez describes this challenge:

“For parents with young children, explaining the complexity and devastation of the war in Ukraine can feel like a difficult task. How can we begin to explain why leaders choose war? But for Black parents, who’ve witnessed both the harrowing scenes of white Ukrainians fighting for their lives, and those of African immigrants who have been abandoned due to bias and structural racism, explaining what’s happening can feel impossible.”

While we wish the world were free of tragic situations, we need to support each other and our children when they happen. Below are some resources from the Boston Children’s Museum team that you might find helpful.

As we cling to the children in our lives, we try to put off the inevitable truth that we cannot protect them from the sorrows of the world. But by actively engaging with them and letting them know that we are there to support them, they will gain trust and self-confidence and, hopefully, build the resilience that will help them cope with challenges throughout their lives.

Resources for supporting young children

Children are very aware of what is happening around them. They pay attention to media coverage and adults’ conversations. They learn about events in school and by talking with friends on the playground. They notice when the people around them are worried and stressed.

Each child and each family reacts differently to traumatic events. Some children might express their own feelings and concerns verbally, and have lots of questions. Others might show their feelings through their actions and behaviors.

There are many resources that give tips and guidance about children’s exposure to media coverage, ways to talk to children about difficult events in age appropriate ways, and how to share and make sense of each other’s feelings at difficult times. Here are a few links that may be particularly helpful:

Most importantly, children need opportunities to play. Play is an extremely valuable way to work through emotions, stress, and trauma. It’s the way that children make sense of the world around them. You don’t need to do anything special—just give them time and space to play in the ways they need. 

Some activities in the Boston Children’s Museum activity library are specifically aimed at promoting healthy coping mechanisms and self-expression during stressful times, which may be relevant for your family right now:

Feelings Yoga. Yoga is an excellent way to explore your feelings in times when you are unable to find the right words to make them known. Try out this fun Feelings Yoga activity with your children—it may benefit you, too, as we are all dealing with complicated emotions. 

Make a DIY Pinwheel to Encourage Deep Breathing. Breathing deeply is a good strategy to help de-stress, but for children, just breathing deeply might seem a little boring. By creating their own DIY pinwheel, children are encouraged to take deep breaths in a way that is fun for them. Watch the video to make a pinwheel and practice breathing deeply.

Practice Mindful Observation. Mindful observation is a healthy way to slow down and de-stress just by listening to your senses and noticing your surroundings. In this video, children and adults can learn how to practice mindful observation anywhere

When dealing with tragedy, sometimes what children and adults need most is to spend time with people they care about. We have lots of other types of activities that you and your child can try. Take a look at the activities, and try something new together.

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