Helping Children and Young People with Distressing War News

There are currently 32 ongoing conflicts in the world, recently news coverage of the conflict in Ukraine and now Israel and Gaza have been graphic, immediate and relentless.

Images and stories of war can be hard to hear and worrying for children and young people. Research shows indirect exposure to traumatic events can trigger mental health problems particularly for children, so it’s important to find a balance, when discussing these kind of events.

Children & young people may ask questions about what they are seeing and hearing on the news, on social media or from others. Its normal to feel a sense of powerlessness when watching others suffer and can bring feelings of grief and distress.

Children who have experienced conflict in their own lives are particularly at risk, as it can be re-traumatising to see images of war.

Grown-Up Self Care

If as a grown-up current events are triggering low moods that you can’t shake, intrusive thoughts, difficulty concentrating or sleeping and feeling agitated; take time for some self care (exercise, go for a walk, share your feelings etc) and if needed get some help. Ensuring your own coping mechanisms are in place before speaking to children on these subjects is important.

Have honest direct conversations

Children maybe susceptible to news-related stress right now, especially as the conflict is likely to be going to go on for some time.

Although we may have a tendency to shield children, they are likely to hear about what’s going on inadvertently (for example, at school or social media).

Being honest and direct with our words, without imparting how we feel about a situation can be reassuring to a child, especially when you discuss and validate their feelings, for example:

“You might hear or see stories about things that are happening in other countries where people are being hurt.”

“It’s OK to feel different emotions about these events that are happening and it’s good that we can talk about it”.

Things to consider:

  • News Exposure – Limit the amount of news they are exposed to. When they are tuned in, make sure you’re there with them, you can then turn it off if necessary, or talk to them about what they are seeing in the moment. Young people are likely to have even more exposure if they have access to social media, something to consider.
  • Monkey Sees Monkey Do – Children model their behaviour from the grown-ups around them, for example talking about the world being a dangerous place, children may internalise that message and start to think that way. Remember children hear everything.
  • Reassure – Remind children they are safe, despite what they are seeing other children go through.
  • Be Honest – It’s important to use open and honest communication with these conversations, children can be resilient and sugar coating is unhelpful with this kind of information.

Positive Action

One of the best ways to support ourselves and those around us is to help those effected by war. As well as helping others this gives us a feel good factor which is amazing for well-being and can relieve anxious feelings.

Perhaps that’s writing a letter, sending care packages, organising a fundraising event or making a donation if you can.

For children who have creative tendencies, expressing feelings through drawing, painting or journaling can be very therapeutic and create conversations.

This sketch below was done by Artist Tom de Freston.

We asked him how making art can help him during times like these…

“Making art can be such a wonderful way to try and make sense of the world and the things we are feeling. It can also act like hands reaching out, connecting us to each other, like lights in the dark.” Tom de Freston

Such beautiful words and a reminder to also look for the light (the glimmers) in these dark times.

If your child has drawn images of war this can be a good way to open up a discussion. Its important to use direct language and keep things simple.

Another way to dive deeper into these subjects it to read and there are some amazing books that can help children and young people during these times. Thomas de Freston also illustrated a book Lelia and the Blue Fox written by his wife Kiran Millwood-Hargrave which is a beautiful story, about migrating and escaping conflict, aged 8+ but also an impactful read as a grown-up too.

Its always good to talk even when conversations are challenging, if your child or young person is finding current situations overwhelming, we can help children to find calm when they need it. Please say for more info.

Huge thanks to my brother Tom de Freston for sharing his thoughts on what was a challenging article to write. Our thoughts are with everyone that is effected by what is going on in the world with live in a the momenthold onto the glimmers tight.






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