We'd been planning a series of articles on talking to 0-5s about their feelings. But the extremely shocking and upsetting invasion of Ukraine made us decide to bring publication forward, and explore the subject of conflict first: both as kids might experience it in the wider world, and on a personal level.

Much as we’d love to, we can’t wrap our children up in cotton wool and stop them experiencing strife, or hearing about it elsewhere. So here’s some guidance for helping your kids express and process feelings about conflict, in an age-appropriate way.

Letting kids express and ‘process’ anger, frustration & sorrow teaches them that uncomfortable experiences are 'safe' & part of life.

PERSONAL CONFLICT

Girl covering face

No one likes fights, but a set-to with a sibling or friend doesn’t mean the world is ending. Letting kids express and ‘process’ anger, frustration and sorrow teaches them that uncomfortable experiences are 'safe' and part of life. Teaching them some practical skills to manage disputes positively will also be a big help - now and in the future.

The important thing is to respond to fighting in stages:

1. Calm Down

If your child’s majorly upset, you need to take practical steps to help them. Just saying 'calm down' doesn't work when they're literally in a physical state of fight or flight. Instead, encourage them to take deep breaths, sit or lie down somewhere quiet, have a cuddle, drink something cool, stroke a pet, etc. Anything that helps them regain their composure. Then you can talk.

2. Name Their Feelings

It can often be difficult for kids to understand what they’re feeling, especially when they’re very young, but you can help them frame their emotions with a feelings chart, or a game about emotions, or a traffic light illustration. Encourage them to point at the facial expression they identify with, or at the relevant traffic light (red for overwhelmed, yellow for calmer, green for getting-back-to-normal). It helps them get the measure of their emotions and learn that difficult or ‘big’ feelings are only temporary. Once they feel calmer, you can talk about what happened.

Emotions Game by Janod

The Emotions Game by Janod can really help kids express their feelings.

3. What’s The Matter?

Again, very young kids might struggle to express the reason they’ve had a fight. But you can help them think about underlying causes (and not just who did what to whom). For example, if they squabbled over a toy with a friend, the problem might be much deeper. Maybe one of them has been spending time with a new buddy and the other feels left out. Try to delve a little and explore other ideas that may surface. But, equally, don’t put pressure on them.

4. Find Solutions

Talk about what could make things better. Maybe think about different options and choose one together. You could role-play a helpful conversation. Encourage them to use neutral ‘I’ statements, like: ‘I felt angry and sad when you scribbled on my book’, rather than: ‘You spoiled my book because you’re really mean!’ Again, when they’re toddlers, they’ll need lots of guidance, but what you’re doing is getting them into the habit of looking for resolution. Sometimes the option you choose doesn’t make everything right again, or straight away. But it’s the fact that you’re trying to find a solution that matters most.

5. Walk The Talk

The very best way to help kids deal with conflict is to set a good example. When you have a run-in of your own, flying off the handle and ranting about it angrily for ages afterwards doesn't help your kids learn good habits of their own! The more they see you stay calm in arguments, express yourself clearly and look for solutions, the more they’ll understand that conflicts can be overcome - and learned from.

When they’re toddlers, they’ll need lots of guidance, but what you’re doing is getting them into the habit of looking for resolution.

WIDER WORLD CONFLICT

Toy soldier

War is such a frightening concept. You might be feeling unsure about how or whether to talk about the invasion of Ukraine, or armed conflict elsewhere in the world, or how to guard your kids from seeing or hearing upsetting things in the news. Here are some helpful tips for having conversations with them and shielding them from added anxiety.

1. Limit Exposure To News

You can’t stop them from overhearing stuff at pre-school or in the street, but you can control their exposure to news at home. Make sure the TV or talk radio isn’t left on in the background all day. Monitor what they can see on a tablet, or your phone.

2. Find Out What They Know

Encourage older kids to tell you about what they've seen or heard, then how they're feeling and what they think. Do some homework, so you know what you’re going to say and can correct any misinformation.

kids in refugee camp

3. Reassure With Simple Language & Facts

Older kids will be able to manage more detail - younger kids less so. But keep the facts you share clear, confident and reassuring. “There is a war. It’s very sad for those people. But the war isn’t here. Our family is going to be fine.” And, although it might be tempting, resist labelling anyone ‘bad’ or ‘nasty’. It may actually increase your child’s fear. Instead, talk about how some people are behaving angrily and making bad choices. It's also okay to admit that some things are very complicated and you don’t know exactly why it’s happening. It’s alright not to have all the answers.

4. Use A Map

Show them that the trouble is a long way away. When children can see that there’s a big distance involved, and that the crisis is not anywhere physically near home, they’re likely to feel reassured.

Feeling that they’re being a helper in a crisis can really help kids manage their anxiety.

5. Be A Helper

Fred Rogers, an iconic children's TV presenter in the US, (brilliantly played by Tom Hanks in the film ‘A Lovely Day In The Neighborhood’) often quoted this advice from his mother: "When something scary is happening, look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping." In the current crisis, you can stress that many people want to help the Ukranians. Consider donating to a collection of clothes, blankets or supplies for refugees or a financial appeal like Save The Children's Ukraine Crisis Relief Fund or their appeals for Yemen, Afghanistan and Syria. Feeling that they’re being a helper in a crisis can really help kids manage their anxiety.

refugees welcome sign

6. Take Their Mind Off It

It’s hugely important at times like these to destress and have fun. Make sure you make time to have a cuddle and watch or do something reassuring and escapist.

7. Read About it

There's nothing like cuddling up and reading about something to prompt helpful conversations. We have lots of books about feelings and these titles are great for exploring ideas around crisis and resilience:

What Is A Refugee? - by Elise Gravel

Who are refugees? Why are they called that word? Why do they need to leave their country? This simple, graphic and bold picture book for 3- to 7-year-olds explores the full meaning of the word.

Curious Parenting

A great educational resource for guides, printables and cool stuff that aims to ‘empower a generation of resilient, liberated kids’.

Wonderbooks - from Save the Children

A brilliant series of story books inspired by real-world children and events, around themes like conflict, resilience and community. You choose a monthly donation (of £9, £12 or £15) to receive a book every 4 weeks for up to six months. Your donation covers the cost of of producing the books and the rest goes to Save The Children, to help kids change the future for good.

“My 3-year-old son loved this story and even though it is a difficult topic... it was sensitively done. He wanted to tell all his friends and has been asking how he can help.”

One of the titles in the series, ‘Sera, the Shell and the Storm’ tells the story of Cyclone Winston, that ripped through Fiji in 2016, and its aftermath, through the eyes of children Sera and Joe. One parent commented: “My 3-year-old son loved this story and even though it is a difficult topic to tell children about it was sensitively done. He wanted to tell all his friends and has been asking how he can help.” After the first six months your monthly donations continue, but you can cancel at any time.

parent & toddler reading a book

My Name Is Not Refugee - by Kate Milner

An interactive read that draws kids into each stage of a child refugee's journey, inviting them to imagine the decisions they'd make if they were in the same shoes.

Lost & Found Cat: The True Story of Kunkush's Incredible Journey - by Doug Kuntz

This true story of one lost cat's journey to be reunited with his refugee family gently introduces children to a difficult topic and shows how ordinary people can help with compassion and hope.

Lost & Found Cat: The True Story of Kunkush's Incredible Journey

We hope you find this article helpful. Please get in touch or email me - [email protected] - if you'd like to add to our reading list. And if you need any advice on books or games about feelings, or any products at all, just pop us a message on Live Chat. We're here 8am - 10pm every day. Just hit that purple button, bottom right.

PICTURE CREDITS:
Pink soldiers: Jason Leung on Unsplash
Toy soldier: Martijn Hendrikx on Unsplash
Girl covering face: Caleb Woods on Unsplash
Refugee camp: Julie Ricard on Unsplash
Refugees placard: Ra Dragon on Unsplash