Talking to our young people about war
From a webinar by Kintsugi Hope
Dr Kate Middleton is a psychologist and a church leader. She's also a director of the Mind and Soul Foundation. She recently took part, as a panel member, in a discussion about talking to young people about war. Here are some extracts..
There is a spectrum of reaction to crisis situations, like the war in Ukraine, from numb to over-involved - unable to separate yourself from it. That's actually all part of the same problem because our response to something that's overwhelming is often either to get sucked into it and feel like we're swamped or to completely detach - denial.
I asked my son this morning how he felt about war and he says, "I'm just not thinking about it." So he's very much in that zone of just put it away, it's not here so I don't have to deal with it.
I think we've got to recognize that full spectrum of reaction from numb to over-involved. Some people are very instinctively empathetic. They find it almost impossible to detach from somebody else's emotions. Watching a video of somebody from Ukraine talking about their experience, you know that people who are high on that scale, will be emotionally destroyed by that. They find it almost impossible to separate.
Others are much more naturally able to detach and be quite separated and view those things not dispassionately but in quite a different way and that's much more valuable. Research implies that grows our skills of compassion. Compassion is about recognizing someone else is struggling and being motivated to to do something to bring positive change, to join with them in it, to help them feel like they're not alone, that they're heard and maybe to get involved with practical change.
Compassion is a more emotionally healthy response for us as people viewing, something that for most of us, we're viewing from a distance. It avoids that kind of emotional overwhelming when your brain is swamped, you can't think and process clearly, so the risk is that you might make impulsive decisions that aren't that helpful.
You know I've seen a lot of people saying I'm going to give my room to a family. Just pause and think. Can you do that? Can you do it for the length of time? What about your kids? What about your needs? We've got to reflect wisely in this. So in that, I would say the next thing that's worth being aware of is self-compassion. Compassionate people often find the hardest thing is to to care for themselves and I think that's so important.
I've been saying to a lot of people recently, not just young people, but turning off the radio does not mean you don't care. Turning off the radio doesn't mean you're not a good enough person of faith or compassion. It means that you're being aware of your own needs and looking after yourself. It won't help anyone if you become so distressed that you can't think clearly. So I think self-compassion is really important and holding all of those things in balance.
We need to teach young people to do that, teenagers in particular. Their emotions are more easily triggered anyway. They flare up fast. They get pushed into overwhelm more easily than us as adults. So we do need to help them make good decisions and, in a 24/7 media world, remind them that they don't need to view everything all the time.
The news is constantly in the background and sometimes as parents we just need to think, "How am I contributing to some of these anxieties? Do I need to have all the conversations I'm having with my friends on the phone or with people that I see around these things when the children are there?" So limiting what we're exposing them to is going to be really useful.
We need to be aware that everybody's different - every child is different. Some parents will find much more direct methods of helping them to process. Having conversations very much focused on the thing they're anxious about. Other people, particularly with younger children who perhaps struggle to verbalize their emotions and their feelings, find creative approaches much better. Explore different things. As a parent you're getting to know your children and what works best for them.
I think one of the issues here is that this war is not just hitting them as the first challenging thing given the pandemic in last two years. Talking to my son and my daughter, their concept of the world now is very much that it's a scary, unpredictable, risk-filled place and their future is very uncertain. The war is one thing on their mind but there's plenty of other things bouncing around in there. So the thing have found most helpful is being proactive about creating safe spaces that they know will be there if they need to talk. Once I've made the space, I let them choose very much what we talk about .
Those spaces are where my son or my daughter will then start to talk about things and it's interesting that they have said that we can boundary those things for those spaces. For example, my son and I have mum's walking club and we go out into the fields. My daughter and I have our existential crisis coffees where we go to one of the local coffee shops. They're both safe spaces away and they're bounded in time. Often with my son, when we get to the furthest point away from home, he'll start to talk about the thing that he's most anxious about, which is interesting and a very instinctive safety mechanism.
As parents we can create those spaces. Whatever's going to work for your kids. I like to think of it like stepping stones trying to cross a really fast flowing, quite scary river. It used to be a trickle and right now it's in full flood. You need to know where your next stepping stone is if you're anxious. When's going to be the next moment I can talk about this? They don't have to think about it all the time if they know there is a safe space for them to talk.
Lastly, don't forget about fun. Life has sort of lost fun and a lot of kids need to re-learn how to have fun. To go to their clubs, to hang out with friends, just mess around. Not denying the negative but trying to raise up some of the positive emotion so that they've got a bit more balance in life. It just doesn't feel so weighty all the time.
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From a webinar by Kintsugi Hope, 25/03/2022