Many of us have a pit in our stomachs over what is happening in Ukraine. Every day brings more disturbing news.
We try to find the right balance for our children’s exposure to this, but it is hard. The news can make all of us sad and anxious, even though we want to stay informed.
Last week Leela, my 9-year-old daughter and cohost of Newsy Pooloozi – a world news podcast for kids and adults – was in tears imagining what it must be like to flee your home, leaving loved ones behind to fight an invader.
I listened while hugging her, letting her cry, avoiding the temptation to tell her it would all be OK, even though we were indeed miles away from the conflict and its immediate repercussions. I let her empathy linger in silence before telling her that loads of people were feeling the same thing, that she was right to be upset, that what she was feeling was normal.
Did I want her waking up at midnight from a bad dream or sluggishly going to school the next day, empathy turning to anxiety? No, I did not.
So I consulted the experts – admittedly first Google, then real-life professional experts, like Anisha Abraham – a pediatrician and teen health specialist on faculty at Children’s National Hospital in Washington DC.
Here are our top coping tips for kids coping with distressing news events.
1. Check where you’re getting your news
“Many of you, like my own two boys, are listening or reading news coverage of the situation in Ukraine. It’s important to know what’s happening in the world right now, but make sure you get information from trusted news sources,” Abraham said.
There is also a lot of fake news out there – often meant to confuse or just deliberately upset us. So talk to your children about the dangers of clicking on any old thing – stick with trusted news sources.
2. Limit consumption
It’s good to be informed about what’s happening in the world – it makes us better humans knowing what other people deal with, but sometimes enough is enough.
“Don’t forget to take breaks from the constant media updates, especially if it’s affecting your mood or making you feel down or sad,” said Abraham.
It’s good to remember issues are reported on in the news because they are rare – what’s happening right now is unusual.
3. Find the positive angles
While the news is deeply upsetting, there are also many stories of people who are doing incredibly generous acts of kindness, particularly in helping the fleeing refugees. It’s good to remember there is a lot of goodness in the world.
“Focus on the helpers. Right now, there are thousands of people around the world and many governments working together to stop conflict and finally that’s happening. There are people on the ground that are helping those who are injured and providing mandatory aid. Focus on the positive that’s occurring,” Abraham said.
4. Think what you can do to help
When Leela was upset about the kids fleeing their homes, she said, “If we lived next to Ukraine we’d take in a family, wouldn’t we? But we don’t. So we can’t even help them.”
It was interesting that she wanted to help but felt powerless to do so. And yet, there are organizations one can donate to, even campaigns we can run in our own towns to raise funds or awareness. Being active – looking at what we can do to help a situation – feels much more empowering than doing nothing.
5. Talk to friends or family
“Make sure you talk to adults about the questions you may have. We will get through this,” Abraham said.
Leela worries sometimes that talking to her parents about these issues may lead to a history lesson, though. Guilty as charged. So I do try to hold back the lecture and just listen. Even if it means biting the side of my mouth to stay quiet.
6. Remembering it’s OK to be upset
I read this advice long ago (yes, I admit, in a parenting book) the value of shutting up and letting your kid vent and reminding them they aren’t unusual or weird or difficult for doing so. It is remarkable how this simple response to anger or distress in children (and adults, come to think of it) can be so powerfully effective. The fear that you’re opening the floodgates disappears as fast as your child’s upset when you see them bounce off your knee or blows a bubble with their gum once they’ve been heard.
7. Embrace distractions
And finally, don’t forget about the power of distraction. Go play! Ok, even sometimes video games (in moderation!). When distressing news gets too much, think about the things that make you happy and embrace them.
For Leela that’s playing with her cat, watching a show, listening to a podcast, and, OK, playing Roblox occasionally or reading.
What about you?