3 Practical Ways To Help Kids Feel Protected In Times Of Crisis

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Protect Kids From Crisis

We're finally breathing in the fresh air and bam! Here comes another crisis.

This time it's a war in Ukraine and, though it may be far away, depending on where you live, the evening news and daily social media scroll bring it into your home every day.

What can you do to help your kids stay hopeful and ease their stress?

If you help them feel safe and encourage them to help in some small way, they start to feel proactive instead of reactive and they will turn their worry into empowerment.

RELATED: 5 Ways Parents Can Build Emotional Intelligence & Resilience In Kids Right Now

Here are 3 ways to help your kids feel protected when dealing with tough life events in times of crisis.

1. Create a secure haven for them. 

Deal with your feelings first. Even if you're not talking to your kids about the war, almost all of them will sense something is off.

Older kids will be talking about it without us. Work through how you feel about this war early, away from your children, not in front of them.

Talk to your kids as soon as possible. As soon as you feel calmer, open a two-way conversation with them. It's important to let your kids participate in any conversation about anything, but in crises, it's imperative.

Ask them questions, not just about the facts, but what they're thinking and how they feel. Offer comfort and reassurance.

Find out what they've heard at school, in the neighborhood, and on social media. They probably know more than you think they do. Ask questions like, "Are any of your teachers talking about this at school?" or "Do any of your friends ever talk about this stuff?"

They may have overheard gossip or even tidbits of news or misinformation that leave them confused. Clear that up with them. 

Tell them early but gently. Remember your childhood. What would you have liked your parents to say to you? What questions did you have? How did you feel? If handled correctly, even the worst tragedy can strengthen and empower your child.

Stay age-appropriate in your language and concepts. Perhaps you can get out a map or globe and show them where the war is taking place.

Even if your family lives in Europe, the war is not at your doorstep, and for North Americans, and people in the Asia Pacific region of the world, the war is definitely far away. Media makes it seem closer (and often more dangerous to the whole world) than it is.

2. Maintain a safe place for dialogue. 

For small children, wait until they're in bed to discuss the war or watch the news. Children are visual before they begin to read and write, so make sure parental controls on all devices are up to date.

A simple, "You know Anna at school? She may have said the country she comes from is at war with another faraway country, Ukraine. War is a bad thing, but it has been around a long time. You and she are completely safe, and so is she and her family." 

For tweeners and middle schoolers, focus on perspective, debunking sensationalism in the news. Perhaps, you can ask, "What do you think about the war between Russia and Ukraine?"

You can let them lead the conversation, allow them to know your feelings about it, and correct any misconceptions that the media might not have gotten entirely correct, or that they've exaggerated.

Talk about the crisis in terms of risk assessment, comparing the current event to others, and to things like car accidents or sports injuries. Doing a mathematical risk assessment shows the risk to them is low. 

For teens, it's time to get completely real about the situation. Discuss what they think and feel versus what you think and feel. Always make sure that you're a safe place that they can turn to and bounce their ideas off of.

Many are thinking about what would happen if war came to their country, maybe even thinking about the draft, or worse, a nuclear event. There's a way to help them feel less vulnerable and still acknowledge the realities of what war brings. 

Don't argue with their feelings. Just be a good listener and reiterate you're there for them. 

It's also OK to tell them you're sad or even stressed, but emphasize that things are OK and so are you. Make sure you ask them what they think and feel. Be honest but objective.

Be open but not overwhelming. Act like the caretaker you are.

Also, consider special circumstances. If your child has autism, your message will be different. If your child has depression or anxiety, your message will be different. If your child is empathic or highly sensitive, your message will be different.

You know your child best so craft a short, direct, personal message for each of them. Don't force the conversation if they're not interested in talking about it.

You've opened the door for them to come to you when they're ready to ask questions. In the meantime, talk about things other than bad news. 

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3. Find proactive ways to help together.

Your kids are going to feel different things about war. Standard advice to help with those feelings? Emphasize the helpers. Even better though, find ways to help yourself. Even young children can find ways to help.

End your family discussion with ideas about what your kids can do, according to age.

"You unload the dishwasher now," you might say. "Can you think of anything helpful like that you can do for the kids in this war?" 

There are many projects that students can undertake to feel more empowered, such as writing letters of support to victims all over the world. Or they can write about what they feel or what they suggest doing in response to politicians and news media.

Organize a fundraising project or vigil. In the case of war, reach out as a family to someone who has emigrated into your community. 

The bottom line: You may be more worried than they are. However, if you look at history, disaster, even war, has always been a nasty fact of life. You can help most by focusing more on the light than the darkness. 

Tell them that we've been here before as a nation and as a world, and we survived and thrived. Every time war happens, we get that much closer to peace.

How parents respond to any crisis can affect how a young person copes with it.

We can't hide the bad, sad parts of war, but we can offer reassuring words, clear up confusion, and put the crisis in perspective.

It's up to us to help our children understand war, feel safe as possible during it, and help them express and process their feelings about what is happening. Then we can encourage them to plan steps they can take to make things better.

Your family's actions and reactions not only will help a country at war and refugees fleeing from it — in this case, Ukraine — they also teach our children that action creates empowerment, and compassion leads to a better world.

Compassion starts at home. Together, family by family, we can make a difference.

RELATED: 3 Steps All Parents Need To Take To Help Children Navigate The Stress Of Uncertainty

Kathy Ramsperger worked with the Red Cross and Red Crescent in the U.S. & overseas, and now coaches multicultural and biracial families. She's also a former journalist who writes books about war, peace, love, and other humanitarian principles. Her fiction and nonfiction have appeared online in Yahoo Parenting, Thought Catalog, Psych Central, and numerous literary journals. Find her on Twitter.