Hearing about and seeing images of war and violence is distressing for most people. However, it can be particularly difficult for people who have had to leave home and come to the United States because of conflict and crisis. Parents may especially worry about their children hearing about war or seeing images of violence. 


Here are six ways parents can help support their children: 


1. Take Care of Yourself – Children, especially younger children, look to their parents for how they should feel. For example, when a parent is visibly distressed and fearful, their children may feel less safe and more afraid. This does not mean that parents should pretend or fake a reaction. Instead, they can consider: 

  • Having a private place and trusted adults where they can express their emotions freely away from their children. This can be with a friend, a religious figure, or a therapist. 
  • Doing something daily to help cope or manage their reactions, such as prayer, meditation, exercise, and breathing techniques. If someone needs help learning new coping skills, or their current coping skills are not working, they can contact their caseworker or doctor to get a referral to a counselor or therapist. 
  • Using words and modeling behavior. When parents explain their emotions and how they cope, it helps children understand what they may be feeling and provides an example for their coping. For example, a parent can explain “I am really sad when I think about what is happening. When I feel sad, I like to talk to a friend to help me feel better. What do you do when you feel sad?” 


When Your Loved Ones are in Harm’s Way – If a parent has loved ones who remain in a dangerous situation, it can be harder to cope. In those situations, parents may want to get more support for themselves and their children. This could be from a support group, a religious figure, or a therapist. Caseworkers, doctors, and school counselors can be good sources for a referral.  


2. Understand Common Reactions – Hearing about and seeing images of war and conflict can produce various emotions and behaviors. People may feel more fearful, have trouble sleeping, find it more difficult to concentrate or remember, feel disconnected from others, be angry, have increased anxiety, or have difficult memories resurface. For children, emotions often show up in behavior. Parents may find their children acting out more, throwing tantrums, or having regressive behavior like wetting the bed. It is helpful for parents to know about common Age-Related Reactions to A Traumatic Event, so that they can best respond and support their child. 


3. Talk to Your Child – Parents can talk to their child about the situation in an age-appropriate way. Younger children may only need to be reminded that they are safe and the parent is there, but older children may have questions or want to engage in a longer discussion. Parents can start the conversation by acknowledging the situation and asking their child what they know and how they feel. Parents should listen in a non-judgmental way, letting their children know that their feelings and emotions – whatever they are – are valid. Parents should try to stay calm and answer questions to the best of their ability. It’s OK to say they do not know the answer to something. Parents can comfort their child by letting them know they love them, are there for them, and are open to talking. Parents may need to have multiple conversations over time if the situation is prolonged or evolves. 


4. Stick to a Routine – Routines help bring a sense of predictability and safety to people of every age, but they are especially important for children. It is helpful to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. It is also helpful to have other routines like regular mealtimes, wash time, bedtime routines, or special weekend activities. These daily and weekly habits help people feel a sense of order and control, and help people care for themselves during times of stress. 


5. Spend More Time Together – Parents might need to give their children extra time and attention by doing things as a family like reading a book, playing a game, or cooking together. Parents can also give their children extra hugs, sit close to them, and pat their back – especially if they are younger. This helps remind and reassure children that their parents are there and that they love them.  


6. Limit Media – Hearing about or seeing images of war and violence can be distressing and increase fears and anxiety. Parents should try to limit media exposure, especially for younger children. Older children may have more exposure at school or through personal devices like computers or cell phones. Parents should have open and honest discussions about the impact of such exposure and where possible, view it together so parents can answer questions. Parents may also want to consider installing parental filters to prevent graphic imagery, limiting computer or cell phone time, or discussing what websites are appropriate and allowed.