Back of a young child's head, with their gaze fixed on bright but blurred TV images.

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Back of a young child's head, with their gaze fixed on bright but blurred TV images.

How to support children with processing disturbing news events

The war in Ukraine has been an ongoing cause of concern for us all and now we are also trying to make sense of the recent atrocities in Israel and Gaza. As adults this is hard enough, but as children it can lead to overwhelm and extreme anxiety. So, how can we support our children during this time? 

Young girl in home setting looking at a world map.

Encourage open, honest communication

One of the most important things we can do to provide emotional support to our children is to prioritize open and honest communication. Start by creating a safe and judgment-free space where children feel comfortable expressing their feelings and asking questions. Encourage them to share their thoughts and concerns, and actively listen to what they have to say. Validate their emotions and let them know that it’s okay to feel a wide range of emotions, including fear, sadness, or confusion. You want them to know that it’s important that they can share these worries with you so that they know they are not alone with their anxieties and don’t bottle up any fears they may have.  

Adjust explanations according to age

It’s essential to provide context and age-appropriate information to children: if your child is an adolescent you will talk very differently to them than you would if your child is primary-aged. Tailor your explanations to their level of understanding, avoiding graphic or overly detailed descriptions. Highlight the importance of empathy and compassion, helping your child to understand that conflicts like these impact real people, including families and children just like them. Engage in discussions that promote critical thinking and a balanced view of the situation, encouraging them to consider multiple perspectives and the value of peace and dialogue. Emphasize the importance of hope and the power of individuals to make a positive difference, even from a distance, by supporting humanitarian organizations or engaging in peaceful advocacy efforts.  

Young boy holding TV remote and looking towards a screen.

Check content on digital media is age-appropriate

On a practical note, if your child has access to their own devices, make sure that they are only accessing age-appropriate content from trustworthy sources. Children’s fears can be exacerbated by inaccurate or purposefully misleading reporting. News programs such as Newsround can help answer questions in a child-conscious way and they also have some excellent resources to help explain the current conflict in Gaza and Israel online, which you can find here https://www.bbc.co.uk/newsround/67051424  Unicef have also produced this advice, with helpful tips on how to talk to children about these issues.

Focus bedtime routines on calm and safety

However, even when accessing reliable content like this, it’s important to be mindful of the time of day – if bedtime is looming, avoid the news. Instead, support your younger child to connect with happier thoughts through their favourite stories, cuddles, chatting about enjoyable memories and surrounding themselves with toys or pictures that make them feel good. For teens, this may be an important time to re-establish a calming bedtime routine, ideally involving a screen-free hour before bed which can be spent reading, engaging in creative activities, chatting with you, or spending time doing breathing or meditation exercises.  

Teenaged girl lying in bed watching a screen, with clock showing 3:13 am.

Consider the impact on yourself

Lastly, it’s important to reflect on how we, the adults, are processing information about these awful events.

Many of us turn to our phones to check up on news regularly during the day but with an almost continuous stream of horrifying headlines it can be hard to remember that anything is safe or good. It can be helpful to model to our children having allocated time to check up on the news whilst maintaining other, screen-free time set aside to connect with family in activities that are enjoyable, and which help us connect with hope.

If you need emergency support right now or feel a crisis building please remember you are not alone. You can find more helpful resources below.
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