The world is watching, in horror and fear, as Vladimir Putin invades Ukraine. Our hearts are full of sorrow, but there’s also glimmers of hope. I think we all feel it– for the Ukrainian military, the countless civilians taking up arms to defend their country and of course, we are thinking about the defenseless children in Ukraine.
As moms, our thoughts can’t help but go to the children.
The children of Ukraine and our own children as well. How are our own kids coping with all of this? What do they understand about what’s going on, and how can we help them make sense of this senseless crisis?
As Cheeky Podcast moms know, even though we have IBD, we’re moms first and foremost, so this week we’re taking a break from our Crohn’s and colitis conversation to uncover the best ways to talk to our kids about what’s going on in Ukraine, at their level, for their age… to ensure that they feel heard and safe in a world that’s been out of control and chaotic for them for far too long.
It’s all about our kids today on The Cheeky Podcast.
Three Things You’ll Learn in This Episode
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HUMANITARIAN AID AND CHARITIES THAT NEED YOUR SUPPORT
NEWS SITES GEARED TOWARDS YOUNGER KIDS
Connect With Karyn:
The world is watching, in horror and fear, as Vladimir Putin invades Ukraine. Our hearts are full of sorrow, but there’s also glimmers of hope—I think we all feel it– for the Ukrainian military, the countless civilians taking up arms to defend their country and of course, we are thinking about the defenseless children in Ukraine.
As moms, our thoughts can’t help but go to the children. The children of Ukraine and our own children as well. How are our own kids coping with all of this, what do they understand about what’s going on, and how can we help them make sense of this senseless crisis. As cheeky podcast moms know, even though we have IBD, we’re moms first and foremost, so this week we’re taking a break from our Crohn’s and colitis conversation to uncover the best ways to talk to our kids about what’s going on in Ukraine, at their level, for their age… to ensure that they feel heard and safe in a world that’s been out of control and chaotic for them for far too long. It’s all about our kids today on the cheeky podcast.
Hey dear one, Karyn Haley with you on another episode of The Cheeky Podcast and I curious, have you been glued to the TV, to social media, to podcasts, and the internet this week as countless news outlets detail the horrific events in Ukraine? As a parent and as a human on this planet, I feel like it’s important for me to be informed about world events, but even I have felt like I’ve had to take a break from the constant coverage now and then. In America and in other parts around the world, most of us have the luxury of doing that. And it’s in those moments that I’m taking a break from the bombardment of the 24/7 news cycle that it just hits me, how are my kids doing with all this?
What are they making of what’s happening in our world?
Unlike what I can only imagine it was like to be a kid during WWII or 9-11 when the news was slower and social media didn’t invade a child’s every waking moment, today’s kids are different. And you might think I’m talking about teenagers. But not necessarily, even younger kids are not immune to hearing tidbits that they struggle to make sense of. I feel like during times of strife, it’s important for us to check in with our kids, meet them where they’re at, and help them try to make sense of their inner thoughts and feelings.
Having a background in mental health counseling, I can’t help but always think of situations from a psychological perspective. Seriously, you should be in my crazy brain that’s always humming with questions like: Why did she do that in that thing that way? What’s he thinking right now? What was the motivation behind that statement? It’s just how I’m wired. I’m sure I overthink things. But this overactive psychology brain of mine has been working overtime in last several days. Processing the how and why of Russia and Ukraine for myself, and then thinking about what my kids are possibly thinking about all this and how can I best approach this topic with them. For my younger kid, as well as my older kids—of course the way I broach this subject will be different because they are in different places developmentally—and even, thinking about how to tailor the conversation to the individual child no matter their age, that’s been top of mind.
We all know it. Parenting is hard.
It’s been harder over the last couple years. Even though, physically we may not have been moving about in the world as much in the last 2 years, our brains have still been moving about and have been working overtime, haven’t they? Our brains haven’t stopped. And in my heart, I know that the time that we are currently in, where an oppressive dictator decides to barbarically invade another country and the ramifications that will have for Ukrainians, for Russians who are speaking out against Putin, and all of us around the world, is a time when our brains need to continue to work overtime, to process what is happening so we can help our kids yet again, get through another challenging and confusing time.
So before I dove in, to have what turned out to be some really enlightening and thought provoking conversations with my kids, I thought it best to find out what the experts are saying about talking to your kids about the invasion of Ukraine. And I found some really insightful ideas on how to best approach this difficult conversation– talking to my kids about war. God, the difficult conversations are just never ending these days. I hope that this thought provoking information gives you comfort and confidence (I know I need to feel those things right now) because it’s necessary to have these tough conversations. And it’s never one and done, but this will at least help you get started.
When I think about the vortex of reading I got sucked into here, I can’t even recall how many resources I perused—let’s just say lots—but I found that there were common themes that seemed to play over and over from the expert perspective when it’s time for tough conversations with our kids. First and foremost, experts alike agree that it’s important to talk to our kids about global events in a way that fits their age, maturity level, and in a way that fits with the questions they are curious about, but at the same time, we should try not to bombard our kids with too much information if they are not asking for it. Experts also agree that cell phones, streaming services, the 24-hour news cycle, and social media make global events like war very overwhelming for our kids. They talk about how kids deserve to feel safe and how we need to find ways to help them feel safe as much as we can.
COMMON SENSE MEDIA GIVES AN AGE-BY-AGE TAKE
Common Sense Media—do you know this website? It’s fantastic. It’s a hub of information about movies, tv shows, books, gaming… and it gives you age recommendations, reviews, ratings, and commentary so you can make the most informed decisions for your kid for whatever activity they’re into. I love common sense media. When my kids were growing up, we’d use Common Sense Media as our age bible for everything. The kids would say, can we watch Harry Potter? What’s it say on Common Sense Media, we’d say? Can I read Hunger Games? Did you check out Common Sense Media? We were like autoboots repeating different versions of the same phrase over and over.
Sure, it’s a little bit of a cop out as a parent, but my husband and I got so sick and tired of always having to be the bad guy saying no—you’re 5 you can’t watch The Dark Night, but how about Bolt or Cars again? Or always having to read, watch, and experience every last want of our kids before they could engage. We’ve got 3 kids my friend! Common Sense Media would give us an unbiased barometer to judge how good we were as parents—for better or worse, Common Sense Media parented us as parents.
So over the years, Common Sense Media has really grown to include some pretty informative articles to help us with most aspects of parenting. In one of the articles I perused to help me figure out the best way to talk with my kids about Ukraine, they mentioned several ways you can help your kids deal with the news in general and in common sense media fashion, they broke it down by age. Kids 7 and under. Kids 8-12. And Teens.
FOR KIDS 7 AND UNDER:
Common Sense Media says keep the news away. Do your news viewing away from your kids, especially when frightening pictures and images are involved. If kids this age happen to hear or see something, stress to them that your family is safe. If you have older kids and your younger kids overhear your conversation, or if your kids happen to see or hear something on the news, use the distance of this war to help reassure them and help them feel safe. Get out a map to show them the war is happening here and we live here. And above all, according to Common Sense Media, kids feel safe when they know they are not separated from you. Find time to spend together, listen when your kids talk, especially about their fears, use distraction techniques, provide physical comfort by snuggling with them, watching a happy program together, reading a book, or doing a fun activity.
I think this is a really great time to point out, for my sake more than yours because I’m sure you already know that every kid is unique. Maturity levels and age really need to come into play when deciding how much to talk about in situations like these. While I completely respect Common Sense Media’s thoughts and ideas here, I do think that even with kids under seven we can find ways to talk to them about global events in very simple terms that still help them feel safe.
Now of course, if I had a two-year-old, I am not going to be bringing up the war in Ukraine. But with a six-year-old or seven-year-old, depending on their maturity level, and of course their curiosity level, I may mention this event in passing. One country is being mean to another country and we are going to pray as a family for everyone’s safety or we are going to give to charity XYZ to help the families who live there. I might even get out a map and show them where the countries are. Most kids who are five, six, or seven years old know what it’s like to have a friend who they perceive as being mean to them. When you put the conversation at this level, it just gently starts the process of making your kids aware that we live in a global, interconnected world. Pointing out the countries on the map shows them a bit of geography as well so it’s short, it’s not too scary, and it’s part of a conversation that’s a multi functioning learning process.
I do agree wholeheartedly with Common Sense Media though that the most important thing for children seven and under is that they feel safe and connected to us. I think that that is the key no matter how you approach what’s going on in Ukraine with children this age. I’m curious to know what do you think? Have you shared anything about the war with your seven and under kiddos? Remember there’s no right answer here because it depends on your family, your beliefs, and your individual children. And this is just food for thought to get the conversation started.
KIDS 8-12 YEARS OLD:
When global events are at stake, the news and war, Common Sense Media talks about considering your child’s temperament and maturity level for kids in this age group. Your child may be extra sensitive or an empath by nature. If this is the case you may want to keep them away from the news, TV, and dangerous images. I can give you an example for this because I have a child in this age group and he is very much an empath. He takes on others emotions so easily that sometimes it overwhelms him. So for my son, we are talking about Ukraine in terms that he can process and understand, but I’m not watching or listening to the news with him. Instead I listen and then filter my experience with all of this to him in a way that he can understand. I know that some of the graphic images may be too frightening for his sensitive temperament.
Again, every child is different so your child might not feel that way at all and want to watch the news as you watch. Common Sense Media also talks about being available for questions and conversations. This is where we mamas shine. Kids this age see things in black-and-white. This gives you insight into where they’re coming from but also a starting point for conversations about prejudice, bias, and how we need to be careful with generalizations.
Common Sense Media says that if your kids are online, try to be there with them, or monitor what they are exposed to, use programs to help control what URL’s you want your kids to stay away from. Let me tell you from experience that this is that age where if your kids are on social media or the Internet, things are going to pop up without them even searching for them. There’s so many things they cannot unsee, so this is a great time to have parental controls on their devices.
THE QUESTION THAT MUST BE ASKED OF OUR CHILDREN
My favorite advice for this age group from common sense media is to have a conversation with your child that starts with the phrase, “What have you heard about Ukraine?” Because they probably already heard at least something about the war at school, from friends, possibly on the Internet or social media. Asking the question, “What have you heard about what’s going on in Ukraine?” helps you start the conversation with where they’re at.
What do you think about this advice? Does this fit for your child? How will you personalize it for their situation and their needs? I really like the advice that common sense media is giving for this age group. If fits really well for my child, but it’s up to you how are you take this information and what parts of it you take to help your child. Remember in the end, the goal is for them to feel heard and feel safe.
Oh teenagers. Mind of their own teenagers. When we’re talking about global events like a war with teenagers, we cannot underestimate the fact that they have opinions, they have access to information, and in most cases they are not shy about sharing what they know or think they know.
Common Sense Media says the most important thing to do with teenagers is to check in. Since teens are getting their information independently, it’s important for you to find out what they already know. This gives you as the parent of the opportunity to throw in the news you’ve been getting and give more context to what they already know.
Remember, teens tend to have strong opinions so don’t dismiss their insights. Validate them and use it as an opportunity to have an open conversation with them. That’s some seriously great advice from Common Sense Media because we know as soon as we shove our opinion down our teen’s throat, that’s when they shut down. Instead, we can say something like, “That’s a really interesting thought Jim. I haven’t really thought about it in that way. I saw XYZ on the news today and I thought this perspective was really interesting. What do you think?”
Common Sense Media says with teens, the most important thing is for them to feel like they can express themselves. Teens may personalize events like this, they may even know somebody directly impacted or involved in someway with the war in Ukraine. Especially with the global reach of social media. They might also be wondering, how much will this impact me? It’s important not to minimize or dismiss their concerns. If you do disagree with their take on what they’re hearing from their sources, it’s great to have a conversation with them about it. Open them up to the media outlets where you think there is valid unbiased information. Even though teens don’t tell us they value our insights and opinions, we know that deep down, we deep down, they do. Hopefully they will check out your resources out as well.
What do you think about this teen advice? I think Common Sense Media knows teens. They know how independent and stubborn they can be and they appreciate the value of conversation and connection with teens rather than preaching at them and telling them what they should think. Having been through teenager-hood with two kids I have really learned the value that connection conversation can bring. A question to ask yourself here is what fits for my teen and what doesn’t? It’s a good idea to have a sense of these things before broaching the conversation about Ukraine with your teen.
And of course, it’s multiple conversations, it’s about opening the door so that you can continue to have open dialogue. We have no idea what direction this conflict is going to take. We’re all figuring it out day by day, but when we have the door open to connection and conversation with our kids no matter what their age, the conversation becomes infinitely less difficult to initiate.
THIS ARTICLE IS MAKING WAVES
There’s another article that I read about talking to your kids about the war in Ukraine. I found it to be so chock-full of valuable information. Have you read the article from the Washington Post yet? It’s titled “Your Kids Are Hearing About Ukraine. Here’s how to Help Them Understand.” It’s been so popular that it’s making the rounds on social media. If you haven’t seen it yet, I highly recommend you go to the show notes and check this article out. I will have it linked there at karynhaley.com/77. In fact, I’ve got lots of articles that we don’t have time to get into that are still filled with super valuable information on talking to your kids about what’s going on right now. You may want to check them out if this topic is something that’s been on your mind as well.
You can see all of the articles at karynhaley.com/77.
So this Washington Post article starts out by saying the best thing to do is ask that same question that common sense media mentions, “What have you heard about Ukraine and what’s happening?” Such a great jumping off point. So simple yet so poignant. I think it’s because it’s open ended and let’s the conversation take direction from the child.
But then, they have a follow-up question that I think is also so spot on and that question is, “How did you get your information?” Remember, especially for teens, this is not in an accusatory way, you’re just wondering where did they get their information from. With so much misinformation and half information out there for our kids to devour on Instagram and tik toc, you want to be able to give context to where they got their information and provide them with additional resources that may also help round out a more complete picture what’s happening.
WAR AND ANXIETY
I really like that the Washington Post article goes into one of the main emotions I think we’re all feeling right now—anxiety—whether we are in tune with it or not. By now, with the last couple years we’ve had, we may be so numb that we’ve tuned some of our key emotions, like fear and anxiety because it’s so ever present in our lives. Think about how this constant state of anxiety might impact our kids.
According to Caroline Netchvolodoff, Vice President of Education at the Council of Foreign Relations, she says if tweens pick up on a smidgeon of the Ukraine story here and there, or they pick up on our anxieties, it might make them feel like we are headed to WWIII. And who would blame them for thinking that. I’ve heard that very sentiment on the news myself. How about you?
One of the anxiety busting ideas given in the article for tweens and teens is this cool website called Convene the Council. It shows how our government makes decisions. It’s interactive so your child gets to be a factor in the decision making process. I checked it out with my tween last night and he really liked creating a real-life government scenario around how policy is made to impact climate change. It took him through how likely the decisions he made were to happen and he saw the different channels policies like this go through to actually get passed into law.
Now, there wasn’t anything about Ukraine specifically on the site, but just seeing all the checks and balances for our government, seeing how each of the government arms work, helped my son see how in the United States, we have plans and plans for those plans, and that there is a well-oiled and capable machine within the government to help us stay safe. This interactive website is meant for older teens as well, but my 18-year-old checked it out and said, feh. Not a compliment at all for his generation. It’s recommended for 12 and up, but I think if you sat there with your child, a 10-year-old would get something out of it and enjoy the interactivity of it too. Probably somewhere around 15 or 16 your kid will say, nope boring. I’ll leave a link to Convene the Council if you’re interested.
The part of this recent Washington Post article I found most helpful was the part about how, thanks to the pandemic, finally some good news out of this awful situation, we are all in a state of “call to action.” You know, things like what you can do to help like “flatten the curve,” supporting our medical community and those at high risk for covid infection. For the most part, as a society did what we could in spirit and in action to help those in need. The same thing happened after 9-11 too. People responded to the crisis with their own “calls to action.” During this time of unease we are all experiencing, feeling anxious or scared, the article points out that now is the time to act because that action has the power to ease our anxiety. It makes us feel like we actually are having an impact and that we have some sense of control.
I’ve been thinking this very thing through the war on Ukraine. How can I help here in America?
What can little old me in the U.S. do to help. Thankfully, I was able to search out and vet some really good charities that help on so many levels. A friend of mine from Ukraine is asking for donations to help the Ukrainian military. We know they need support right now. The Ukrainian Red Cross is looking for blood donations, monetary donations, even humanitarian aid for the country, CARE International helps by way of care packages with food and hygiene kits as well as providing psychological services for military and families… that’s just a few options to consider and it doesn’t matter the age of your child here. We all can teach our children to be charitable in words, good deeds, and donations… in whatever way we can. Calls to action like these are good for everyone’s anxiety and our soul. Links to vetted sites I just mentioned and many more like these are in the show notes at karynhaley.com/77 if you want to see how you and your family can help make a difference for the people of Ukraine.
LET’S HEAR FROM THE REAL EXPERTS
Before we wrap up the episode on how we can talk to our children to help them process what’s happening in Ukraine right now, I want to touch on what the psychologists are saying. As you can imagine, those in the mental health field are very busy fielding questions right now and I’ve got your cliff notes version of their best advice for parents. Dr. Tracey Alloway (sorry for the mispronunciation in the podcast), a clinical psychologist in Florida, sums up the best approaches for younger children. She says that during times like these, we can encourage a child’s curious nature and encourage questions from them. She talks about how younger children who may be fearful of the unknown have a very concrete way of seeing the world. So when we engage in conversations with our kiddos about the challenges in Ukraine, it’s important to remember to put our insights into situations and experiences that are known to them.
When we think about the kinds of experiences that are known to our children, that might be a situation like having a conflict over a toy at a playdate or feeling judged by a friend, or even just the feeling of sadness. Really young ones understand that feeling. Putting global information in terms they understand helps them to feel more in control and less fearful of the unknown. I thought that was really good information, especially for parents of younger ones. I hope that’s helpful for you.
When asked about how kids are handling this unstable world situation, forensic psychologist, Dr. Judith Wenban-Smith had an insight so good that I have to give it to you verbatim—in her exact words. Dr. Wenban-Smith is quoted in a recent article published by the Guardian saying,
“Every bomb will generate yet more headlines, and politicians will respond with ever more aggressive talk,” “The problem is that in the past two years, children have learned that the world is a dangerous place and that bad things can and do happen close to home because of Covid.”
So true. Our kids have been through a lot these last two years. I know with my younger son, I keep mentioning things we did prior to Covid and quarantining. Sometimes he remembers, but a lot of the things I mention to him, he’ll say I don’t remember that. It’s weird, it’s like there’s no memories for him prior to covid. And he’s not 6 or 7 so this is an interesting phenomenon. Does this have something to do with his age, is it dangerous world overload? Because of my health and other family member’s health challenges, our world became very small during Covid. Did he get so immersed in all that was going on that he just can’t remember our much bigger much bolder pre-covid world? I guess time will tell, but one thing’s is for sure, our kids have gotten way to use to bad things happening and we need to remember that as we help them navigate through this time in our lives.
When I try to process all I’ve learned in my deep dive into finding the best ways to communicate with our children about the war in Ukraine, there’s a few themes that I’m hearing over and over.
THE TAKEAWAY FOR TALKING TO YOUR KIDS ABOUT WAR IN UKRAINE
That’s it my friend. That’s what I found. Let’s keep the conversation going. Let’s send out positivity and light to every Ukrainian citizen no matter where they are right now and let’s hold our own families close in gratitude and in solidarity that peace triumphs in the end.
Until we meet again, I’m wishing you a cheeky and healthy gut healing journey. Chat soon!
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