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How to talk to children about conflict and war

When conflict or war makes the headlines, it can cause feelings such as fear, sadness, anger and anxiety wherever you live.

In order to help parents, guardians and teachers, Unicef has issued some tips on how to approach the conversation with a child and to provide them with support and comfort.

Find out what they know and how they feel

Choose a time and place when you can bring it up naturally and your child is more likely to feel comfortable talking freely, such as during a family meal. Try to avoid talking about the topic just before bedtime.

A good starting point is to ask your child what they know and how they are feeling. Some children might know little about what is happening and not be interested in talking about it, but others might be worrying in silence. With younger children, drawing, stories and other activities may help to open up a discussion.

Kids can discover the news in many ways, so it’s important to check in on what they’re seeing and hearing. It’s an opportunity to reassure them and potentially correct any inaccurate information they might have come across whether online, on TV, at school or from friends.

A constant stream of upsetting images and headlines can make it feel like the crisis is all around us. Younger children may not distinguish between images on screen and their own personal reality and may believe they’re in immediate danger, even if the conflict is happening far away. Older children might have seen worrying things on social media and be scared about how events might escalate.

It’s important not to minimize or dismiss their concerns. If they ask a question that might seem extreme to you, such as “Are we all going to die?”, reassure them that is not going to happen, but also try to find out what they have heard and why they are worried about that happening. If you can understand where the worry is coming from, you are more likely to be able to reassure them.

Be sure to acknowledge their feelings and assure them that whatever they are feeling is natural. Show that you’re listening by giving them your full attention and remind them that they can talk to you or another trusted adult whenever they like.