The effects of the conflict in Ukraine on children in the UK and how care givers can help

Following the pandemic, we are a seeing an increase of referrals for people suffering with acute anxiety. This is not exclusive to Adults, children have been massively affected by the ‘Stay Home Safe Safe’ message. Our children have experienced uncertainty and feelings of being vulnerable first hand over the last 2 years so it’s likely that being exposed to talk and images of the Russia Vs Ukraine conflict can be triggering for some children.

So here we find ourselves surrounded by daily updates and images of conflict, and warfare in the Ukraine and you may be forgiven for thinking that your child is not that aware of what is going on because they aren’t watching it on TV or reading about it in the paper. However, there is a likelihood that they are being exposed to it via, social media, in the playground or by observing care givers talk about it.

So, what can you do to help your child understand the situation better?

Firstly, think about how you manage your own thoughts and feelings about the conflict. Children learn through observation and mirroring behaviour. Your child will benefit from seeing you stay calm and grounded. If you show you are worried and anxious, what does this teach your child?

Limit how much the news is on at home. It’s important to know the facts but too much exposure can result in increased anxiety. Try to create a healthy balance.

If your child mentions the conflict to you, clarify with them what they know and what they have heard.

Do not lie or keep information from children as invariably a curious mind will attempt to find answers for themselves. Instead, discuss with them finding information from reliable sources. Explain the conflict in an age-related way – there are lots of useful articles and information online eg CBBC Newsround and Education Hub on the websites. Make sure your child is aware of ‘fake news’.

If you are not sure of how to explain the conflict you may find this piece published by on their Facebook page helpful (credit to Yvette Dawson Phillips who originally wrote it).

I’ve got to admit it helped me to get my head around what is happening.

After the last BIG playground fight (WW2), lots of popular kids (WORLD LEADERS) got together and made a big gang (NATO), and all the kids in the gang made a pinky promise (TREATY) to be nice and respectful and not fight each other anymore. This means not going into each other’s part of the playground (COUNTRY) without permission, and not throwing sticks or stones (HEAVY ARTILLERY) at each other, and the UK is part of the gang.

But then a new kid (UKRAINE) joined the playground, and a big bad bully (RUSSIA) started picking on the new kid, all because he is greedy and bossy and wanted the new kids playground space for himself, even though he has one of the biggest spaces in the playground. But sadly, the new kid is not part of the gang because the big bad bully didn’t want the new kid to join the gang.

We would be breaking our pinky promise if any of the gang members help the new kid fight the bully. We have all told the bully off, and stuck up for the new kid by hiding the bully’s pocket money until the bully stops hurting the new kid (SANCTIONS) and this will hopefully stop the bully from buying more sticks and stones.

We have also given the new kid lots of our own sticks and stones to fight the bully, because this is not breaking the pinky promise! Even though it is really, really sad, all we can do now is stand on the edge of the playground and watch and give moral support to the new kid, because we are not allowed to fight the bully for them, not without breaking the pinky promise. BUT… if the bully breaks the pinky promise and comes into our part of the playground (UK) without permission and throws a stick or stone at us, then the whole of the gang (NATO) will come and help us, and we will ALL jump on top of the bully (RUSSIA) and beat him up.

Make sure your child feels safe and protected by you and encourage that they come to you if they need anything explaining, keep channels of communication open and do not be dismissive of their thoughts and feelings even if they are seemingly irrational.

Try to avoid discussing such issues before bedtime, instead choose a calm time throughout the day when they are more responsive.

If the child is worrying a lot, create a ‘worry jar’ where they can write their worries down and secure them where they won’t get out.

Encourage empathy for people who are caught up in the conflict and validate your child’s emotions.

Think of things they can do to help victims of the conflict to show that they care, such as donating items to people that are being affected by the conflict. Lots of places have local drop off points at the moment.

Finally be patient if your child is a little more clingy, anxious or their sleep is disturbed. It’s easy to forget that our little people have been through the same situation as we have – it’s just that they’ve seen it from a different perspective. I still have moments when I look back on what has happened over the last couple of years and wonder ‘what the hell just happened?’

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