Talking to Children About Hard-Hitting Headlines and Having Those Difficult Conversations
As the situation in Ukraine plays out and is broadcast, in live time, onto our television sets at home, over the airwaves of our favourite drive-time radio stations, and pinged as a News notification direct to our mobile phones; it’s becoming more and more difficult to shelter the children in our lives from hearing and seeing the headlines that we’d perhaps rather they were blissfully unaware of.
So, I thought that, this week, I’d share my thoughts on how to handle those difficult questions, not solely questions regarding war, but more broadly, questions about difficult topics.
When my Mum prematurely passed away, I was met (and am still met, on a daily basis) with a barrage of questions from my daughter (now 4) and I pride myself on having become, in the process, a bit of a dab-hand at answering difficult questions.
I think that the things I’ve learnt from dealing with Little Miss’ unfaltering questions about my Mum dying are applicable across the board: from fielding questions about Russia and Ukraine to queries about ”Bloody Boris!” (Genuinely what my daughter thought the PM was called 😬), and so I hope that you’ll find, in the following advice, some useful tips on how to answer those inevitable tricky questions.
My first words of wisdom would be that, if your child has questions, you need to answer them; and actually, that’s a mantra that’s applicable to a whatever they are questioning: if your child is curious about something; don’t try and skirt the topic; recognise their astuteness and give them an answer; even the very youngest children know when you are holding out on them, so always dignify their questions with answers.
That isn’t to say that you need to provide them with a three page essay answer on the cause and effect of the situation, but you do owe them a response; if you are overly evasive or unwilling to answer their question; they may well imagine something that, to them, is much more frightening than the reality – and then you’ve created a problem, as opposed to listening to your child.
Here are my top tips:
· Reassure your child that they are safe. Most of the time, this is all that they want from you; so, if you make this your starting point, you’re already doing a fab job.
· Recognise their feelings, give them the time to express how they are feeling and reassure them that all feelings are valid.
· Don’t feel that you need to have all the answers. Nobody does! You don’t have to be a machine; you are allowed to say to your children “I don’t know; I’ll find out” or “I don’t know, I feel sad too”. Model for your child that it’s normal, and healthy, to talk about emotions; and that it’s important, intelligent and helpful to ask questions.
· Use words that are age-appropriate to the child in question. Your three year old isn’t going to be familiar with the terms “autocracy”, “palliative care” or “shadow cabinet” – so make sure you use language that they are familiar with. Comparing the situation to a story or character that they are familiar with can be useful.
· Often children feel more comfortable about a difficult situation if they feel that they have an element of control over it, or that they can help. So, let them.
When my Mum died, I let Little Miss “help” me choose the floral spray that adorned my Mum’s coffin. In the current climate; she wanted to “help”Ukrainian “people like us”, so she and I looked for small businesses that were donating the profits of their sales to appeals sending funding/supplies to Ukraine. (For those interested, I actually made a Guide on Instagram, so do check that out.) In both these instances, giving her a level of involvement has helped her process the situation.
Fred Rogers famously said: “When something scary is happening, look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping”.
· Be aware of how your child is receiving the information they have questions about. Is it something they’ve heard on the playground? Have they watched a News programme? Have they overheard you talking about the issue? You cannot control the situation they may be worried about, but you can control how and when they hear about it.
I once read an article by a woman who talked about how, as a child, each evening her family would sit down together and watch the 6 o’clock news. When it came to the current affairs broadcasting of the Vietnam War she, only very young at the time, heard the words “guerrilla warfare” and – terrified by the prospect of rapid-firing great apes storming her home – began to make plans as to where she would hide from “the gorillas” when they came for her.
That example has stayed with me and I think it’s a real lesson in being aware of what the children in your life hear, and the language you use around them.
And that’s about it. You don’t need to answer the questions they haven’t asked, and you don’t need to attempt to be the fount of all knowledge; just be honest, whilst being age-appropriate.
Have you had a difficult question, put to you by a small person, that you’re struggling to answer? Drop me a comment on tonight’s blog post over on Instagram and I’ll do my best to help you find an answer for it. You’ll find me on @mummyscrummie, or as the co-creator of the post on the @catkintoys page.
Have a lovely week, I’ll see you back here, next Sunday, for another Scrummie Sunday blog post! Until then! X