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How to talk to children about conflict and war

Watching people flee war-torn nations on the nightly news is difficult enough for adults to comprehend.

But how do you even set about approaching the subject with children? Coach and speaker Gifty Enright (giftyenright.com) shares her top tips for speaking about tough topics with little ones.

Address the headlines

Unless you live under a rock, it's impossible to avoid updates about the situation in Ukraine following the invasion of Russian forces last month. According to Gifty, parents and caregivers should absolutely speak about the conflict with children.

"This a great opportunity to have conversations about humanity pulling together to support the underdog. Discussing difficult things like the war with children helps their emotional development, teaches them to handle disappointment and develop resilience," she said. "If they can speak and are asking questions then that is the age to be having these conversations using simplified language that they can understand but they should be told the truth."

Be thoughtful with language

It's a good idea to use simplified language and familiar points of reference.

"You could ask children about the times they fight with their friends or siblings. What causes the fight? Why was there a misunderstanding? What is the resolution?" the Octopus on a Treadmill author advised. "Let them know that grown-ups have the same feelings too and sometimes need a third party to negotiate. But rather than two grown-ups, on occasion, you get whole countries fighting. Children don't need to be traumatised by the atrocities of war, but they need to know that as part of the fighting, sometimes civilians get hurt and have to be rescued. The emphasis should be on giving them the facts but also giving them upside of what is being done about it so that they are not left with a feeling of helplessness."

Discuss images/videos seen online

Honesty is always the best policy and if children or teens come across harrowing images online, parents should acknowledge this.

"Take the lead from the children; ask them how it makes them feel and then deal with any negative feels coming up for the children. Their feelings of fear, insecurity and anxiety need to be acknowledged and then managed by letting them know that there are a lot of good things going on in the world and how this has galvanised the rest of humanity to help," she added.