THE ABCs of WAR
Dr. Amy Demner, LMHC
Licensed psychotherapist and sexologist
Anxiety and fear is at a peak in our nation. Adults are feeling a heightened sense of stress about world issues. But, what about our children? What are they feeling? What are they thinking? Children today are bombarded with information from a variety of sources, including television, radio, video games, the Internet and friends. Understanding how they absorb and process this information can have a major impact on their development and behavior.
Parents with children, particularly those in elementary school and older, should be prepared to talk to their children about war and its ramifications sooner rather than later.
Careful preparation is critical before rushing into any conversations with your children. First, you need to assess your own feelings, then map out a strategy for talking to your children.
Preparing for a conversation with your kids about war involves a careful self-assessment, as well as a discussion with your spouse or other adults in the family. Talk through the conversation with these adults as if it were a dress rehearsal.
Remember, children are very attuned to adult conversations. They internalize a lot of information.
During the preparation stage, check out your own feelings:
- What are your own fears and anxieties about war?
- How comfortable are you talking about death?
- What are your personal beliefs about politics and fighting?
- What can you do for yourself to bring about feelings of calm and peace? (yoga, breathing exercises, etc.)
When it’s time to talk to children, I advise my patients to use a very simple strategy, I call it the "LARKS" formula:
and find out what they know. Clear up any misinformation.
their fears and concerns.
them you're doing everything to keep them safe.
your answers simple. Don't over explain or offer too many graphic details.
feelings and ideas.
For the daily routine, I recommend another formula, called "DRAW".
a support system with your family, community, and government agencies.
help to keep things stable. Stay within the norms as much as possible.
and play are ways to express and work through feelings.
for non-verbal signs of anxiety such as headaches, stomach aches, trouble sleeping or eating, fear of separation, excessive worry, clinging behavior, nightmares, irritability, withdrawal, or loss of concentration.
Don’t try to handle the situation by yourself. If your child’s behavior has changed dramatically or you can’t calm their fears, don’t be ashamed to seek professional help. Typically, these issues can be addressed quickly and effectively through a qualified mental health counselor.
Learning how to talk to kids at an early age about various topics, including war, helps lay important groundwork for the future. Once they feel comfortable talking to you about a sensitive topic, they are more likely to open up about other delicate issues as they mature.
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