Explain the war to children. What “does” they don’t say

How to handle emotions (even in the family) in an emergency

For about two years, Italian society, but not only, has lived in a continuous and lasting state of emergency. The pandemic began in 2020, immediately followed by the economic crisis. Subsequently, situations of great stress and tension followed due to the turmoil of the war in Ukraine and the return to the conflicting US-NATO-Russia blocs that still frighten today as they did during the Cold War. It seems that a state of chronic tension has gradually been created, which is also reflected in the information and communication domain, where the words “crisis” and “war” become misused and misused terms.

Negative effects

This unpleasant situation can expose you to various types of negative effects on mental health, including stress, fear, anxiety and, in the most severe cases, panic attacks. Why could this happen? Because the mind is exposed to a series of unexpected external attacks, and therefore disorienting, which undermine psychological serenity, its security and its integrity, giving rise to limited and motivated concerns, such as war, pandemic and economic crisis, to name a few. When fear becomes chronic, it becomes persistent, more general and repetitive concerns such as fear of the unknown and fear of fear can emerge. This kind of discomfort, when it becomes indeterminate, contributes to the onset of anxiety. In addition to affecting adults, anxiety states can also manifest in children who are faced with situations bigger than themselves and emotions that they don’t know how to recognize.

Against the dialogue

So we ask ourselves: how to deal with dialogue with children in this moment of need with a strong social impact?

First of all, it is important for parents to share with their children the complex historical moment they are experiencing, without dramatizing it and without going into excessive detail, but without hiding it.

Children need to “taste” the reality around them through parental guidance. This particular period, which exposes them to uncertainty and unpredictable events, can give them a sense of helplessness, in front of which it is useful to make them feel free to ask questions and ask, without hiding their confusion about the current period with generalized crisis … In fact, we remember that compared to adults, children have a greater need for predictability and security, and the fact of being able to engage them in their concerns is an effective way to make them understand that they are not alone , and that it is normal. to ask questions and even be afraid. A good way to create emotional affinity and attunement is actually to share with them, in a coherent and non-penetrating way, the fear that the adult also experiences, precisely because children observe the surrounding environment and their parents’ fears. they would be hard to hide.

Without being able to hide their worries, it is good for parents to explain to children what they feel in language appropriate to their age, to provide a little emotional literacy that helps them, like a compass, to find their way with respect for what they feel, to prevent them from feeling lonely or disoriented. Listening to the adult talk about his feelings helps the child to orient himself better towards his own.

Children do, they don’t say

Everything that children do not say, they do: with their games, behavior and small somatic symptoms, such as stomach aches or headaches, school difficulties … Children, when they vent their anguish of the moment, can start playing more violent games on stage and wanting to excel with more aggression on the weakest, to guarantee a sense of greater survival. Exposure to that particular context may actually lead them to express anger more than fear because they could experience the sense of vulnerability that surrounds them with frustration. Let’s not judge them and explain to them that they may be behaving like this because they are afraid and that it is normal to have them in the current situation. Let’s always remind him that fear – moreover – is one of the five basic emotions that are part of each of us emotional set. Sometimes we also feel entitled to tell them we don’t have the answers when we really don’t.

We work with children not to make them feel alone in front of what is happening, to help them understand how to know how to behave in the future, since – as Freud said – “the child is the adult’s father” and helps him therefore means creating the resilient adult that will live in him.

Gianluca Mineo
Psychologist, regressive hypnologist, motivator, Emdr therapist

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