Honestly, Just Be Honest

Issue 78

We have all been shocked at the recent events in Ukraine and the devastating impact Putin's acts of aggression have had on people on both sides of the Russian-Ukraine border. These events provide a challenge for teachers, and parents, in helping children cope with what can be unsettling experiences for them even if they are far away from the events

Children react to world events in a huge variety of ways. Some are blissfully unaware of the news; their world is much more local and immediate, with friends and family vastly more real to them than distant figures or events on the television. Some children though, especially older or more mature ones, can surprise you with how much they do pick up from TV or the internet; even children of primary age can have a grasp of who political figures are, if not the subtleties of their political powers or beliefs.

This war, especially with the associated threat of the use of nuclear weapons, has caused some anxiety or outright fear in youngsters. We as teachers and parents need to help them through that. This can be a challenge; children are amazingly perceptive to mood, and any anxiety or stress that we as adults feel can be transmitted unconsciously to our children. This can even be something as simple as our reactions when we are watching the news. As ever, the pernicious effect of social media can make this more difficult for us. Children can often run into reports of or, worse, hysterical reactions to the ongoing events in the most unlikely of places, and this can serve to stoke their fears more. Our job as parents is to keep a watchful eye on what children are doing and, as with many other aspects of internet use, making sure that avoid any inappropriate material.

The best way I believe to help youngsters, and I’m talking really about those below the teenage years, is to be as honest and as matter of fact as you can. Ask them about what they understand of the situation and how they feel about it. Once you can understand their fears, it becomes more straightforward to deal with them. Shocking and disturbing though the war is, we are still a long way from World War III and this important to stress to children. It is also important to emphasise that the strength of the reaction from the rest of the world, and the excellent work that the humanitarian agencies have done, are making a difference to the innocent people caught up in a war they didn’t want. Ultimately, what they are looking for is reassurance and our presence, calmness and general sense of “adulthood” is invaluable in assuaging their fears.

With older children, the challenges can be different. Events such as these produce strong reactions in us all, and teenagers who are coming to terms with the world’s problems can find them hard to deal with. Anger, disbelief and horror are all natural emotions to feel when we see what is happening, and we as parents need to help our children talk through the feelings they may have. Once again, social media can be a breeding ground for hatred and intolerance, and it is a responsibility that falls on us to guide our pupils through this minefield. Radicalisation of online opinions is a real threat for our children and we need to guard against it.

Ultimately the message to our children is the same as the message for us all; we need to demonstrate to an even greater extent the hand of friendship across the continent.

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