The last two years have been anything but ordinary. Globally, our lives have turned upside down. Many of us are feeling completely burnt out, and we’re struggling mentally and emotionally. It feels like the question: What could happen next? is gnawing at each of us. The articles and advice abound: practice deep breaths, carve out time for self-care, go on a walk, and take regular breaks throughout the day. Two years ago, this was totally relevant and extremely helpful. But today? After months of compounding events continuing to pummel our newsfeed? Honestly, it all feels a bit disingenuous and out of touch.
With this feeling of overwhelm is quickly becoming the norm, we’ve all at least heard what might feel like thousands of ways to care for ourselves. What we haven’t seen as much of? How to help our children during these difficult times.
What can we do when things happen like the war in Ukraine and our children are seeing images and hearing conversations? How can we mitigate the turmoil that so many kids are experiencing?
Below are five tips that can help you support your children through frightening times.
- Put your own oxygen mask on first. As a caregiver, it can be all too easy to let your feelings and needs take a backseat. The often invisible obstacle here is that children are extremely perceptive and pick up on the emotions of those around them. Even if we think we are doing a great job at masking our anxiety and fears, kids will still feel the stress. While self-care is great (and important!), we always strongly encourage reaching out to a mental health professional for additional support.
- Talk with your children early about what is happening. We understand the urge to shield our children from the tragedies happening around us. But the trouble with shielding and protecting kids from scary news is that they are likely still seeing images, hearing conversations, picking up on adult stress, and trying to sort out in their own minds what’s happening. Oftentimes, what we imagine can be so much scarier than reality. Speaking with your children openly and age appropriately can help eliminate some of the fear that we may create ourselves.
- Hold space for your child to ask questions about current events. It can be helpful to start by asking your child what they may have already heard and to give them space for any questions they may have. With the war in Ukraine, it can be easy for children to see those images and worry that it’s close to home. They might worry that they too could be separated from their loved ones. Talk about these fears and answer any questions clearly and concisely in a way that your child can easily digest.
- Disconnect and spend some quality time together. Life feels uncertain and unpredictable right now. While it can feel important to stay connected to all the news and updates popping up on our phones and newsfeeds, spending time connecting, playing, and creating can do a world of good for both caregivers and children. Everything happening around us can leave us feeling powerless, hopeless, and disconnected from others. But spending time with our children can help them experience not only some peace, comfort, and connection, but it may also be just what our hearts need right now.
- Come up with an action plan. What are things that could help you and your child feel more connected and hopeful? Spend a little time brainstorming ideas together. Would scheduling a family meeting help create dedicated time to talk and connect? Do you want to help raise money to support Ukraine? Do you want to volunteer locally, create care packages for the homeless, or make small gifts to bring to neighbors? Finding ways to engage and support others can help alleviate that feeling of helplessness.
To be clear, this is not an exhaustive list of all the things we can do. But it does offer a few small ways to help mitigate the stress we’re all experiencing. It can be extremely distressing and even discouraging if you’re struggling to find ways to support yourself and your family in a world that can feel dystopian. To every caregiver out there: We hear you, we see you, and we are here for you.
Please take a moment in the comments below to share some things that you and your family have found helpful to increase connection and hope.