How to talk to children about war and conflict

Using emotion coaching

A strategy you might want to use is emotion coaching. Emotion coaching is a way of telling a child that they are supported, cared about, understood and respected, while also communicating that not all behaviours are acceptable and that they need to moderate how to express their feelings and desires.  

Its usage is supported by growing evidence from neuroscientific research about how we regulate our stress and how we come to terms with the fact that we can’t always get what we want. These are vital skills for coping with particularly stressful or overwhelming times, which we are all going to be experiencing in the days and weeks ahead. 

All Norland students are trained in emotion coaching alongside other strategies, such as reading books, that help children to understand their feelings. 

If you notice your child is getting upset about the war, try the following: 

  • Take them to a calm space in the house, acknowledge how they might be feeling and empathise: “Ahh, I think you must be feeling afraid/uncertain/anxious.” 
  • Validate their frustration or anxiety: “It’s normal to be anxious/afraid when things like this are happening elsewhere/when things we don’t really understand happen/when we hear about scary things happening.” 
  • Be explicit about how you’re helping them and why: “I know that you seem to be worried about what’s happening, but you are safe and remember there are people trying to help make things safe again for everyone. Why don’t we don’t some breathing games together to help you feel calmer. Then we can read your favourite story”. 
  • Once the child is calmer you can teach them strategies for coping next time they are feeling overwhelmed, tired, or lose control. 

Don’t forget to manage your own worries and look after yourself. It’s a very worrying time. While it’s important to have honest conversations with children, it’s also important to try and keep calm and manage our own fears when talking to them to help them to feel safe. Children will be anxious and concerned because their parents and carers are. Remember you’re their safe haven. Take time to look after yourself and find moments of peace where you can. 

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