RE-flections: When the News is Scary

For Parents and Caregivers: Talking with Children and Youth about War

From Beryl Aschenberg, Director of Religious Education

Once again, we are looking on as violence spreads across the world stage. And once again, parents, caregivers, and teachers are faced with the challenge of explaining war and the threat of terrorism to their children. Over the years, I have grounded myself in some simple recommendations to begin such a conversation.

Here are some of those suggestions:

  • Reassure your children of your constant love, and of your family’s safety.
  • If your child is experiencing unpredictable and/or strong emotions, let them know that this is normal, okay, and healthy.
  • Limit your child’s access to media, especially if they are under 8 years old. If they are in the car while you are listening to NPR, then they are likely hearing at least snatches of information that might not be clear. TikTok is not the best place for young people to be learning and processing information about war.
  • Ask your child what they know or have heard, and what they are feeling.
  • Decide on what you will tell your child; for children under eight, a single sentence will likely suffice. For example, you might say, “The war is far away, and we’re safe.” (I remember one father who told me he pulled up a map to show his child exactly how far away Iraq was during that crisis.)

For UU’s, concrete actions often will help us feel like we have something to offer in a situation that is out of our control. My friend and colleague, Rebecca Kelley Morgan, suggests that shared projects  can be respectful and supportive outlets, such as writing or doing an art project, sending wishes to those most immediately affected, and naming things that you are grateful for about your own lives in the days to come. She notes that talking about hard things can lead to discussions about how to help others, and learning more about those whom we have an ability to help, providing an opportunity to model compassion.

Perhaps down the road, members of your family might commit to donate or volunteer for a helping organization. For instance, your family might discuss how the war in Afghanistan has brought refugees to America, and look for ways you might be welcoming to families who have journeyed to this area. (Follen leadership is currently looking into ways in which our church might host a family of Afghani refugees!) Or your teen might join Follen’s FUUY youth group in the CityReach project,working with people who are experiencing homelessness in the Boston area.

I offer these two articles to help you make your way through this challenging conversation:


How to talk to children about war: An age-by-age guide

From NPR:

What to say to kids when the news is scary

If you are need of additional resources or pastoral support, please reach out to me or our lay ministers. At this time, our RE Teachers are not planning on initiating a discussion about the war, but if the young people bring it up, they will be following these same recommended guidelines, reassuring our children that yes, their feelings are appropriate, they are safe, the community is here for them.

UU minister Rev. Rebecca Parker, once wrote, “In a time of great difficulty, if we listen deeply we can hear at least three voices:

   … the voice of sorrow — the great pain and feeling of connection with that which is hurt or broken;

   … the voice of anger or protest — that this outrage should be happening, that we cannot shape or control things to our liking;

   … and the voice of trust — the place where we find sustenance, comfort and perhaps even hope.”

May you have the time and spaciousness to listen deeply to your inner voice in the days and weeks ahead. And may the voice of trust lead you and yours back to Follen, where we may find loving community to bring us hope and inspire us to action.