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Dealing with the fear of war

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The war in Ukraine also raises fears among many children and young people living in Berlin. Parents and teachers are faced with the question of how to deal with it.

Information on this is provided by two current specialized letters that the counseling centers for inclusion education and school psychology in Berlin (Sibuz) have published on this subject: “War in the distance – fear at home” is the title, one letter is addressed to teachers and the other in Parents.

The texts were written by Julia Asbrand, Professor of Psychology at Humboldt University, and Claudia Calvano, Professor at the Department of Education and Psychology at Freie Universität.

acknowledge your fears

First, adults need to become aware of the fears and concerns they have about war, the researchers write. Are you afraid, for example, that the war will also come to Germany or that you will have financial difficulties?

Before talking with children and youth, parents and teachers need to be aware of their own concerns and feelings without letting them overwhelm them. “Your kids need to know that you don’t have an answer to every question and that you’re not sure. But they must give them security and comfort, ”says the letter from the specialist for parents.

give talks

Asbrand and Calvano advise parents and teachers to offer talks when children approach them or when they notice that the class is in a ruckus because of it. Active listening is important. “What does your child imagine? What images does he have in his head? What questions arise?” Psychologists suggest to parents.

Younger children may not be able to classify some of the images. If they see a tank, they may not know that it is in a different city and not near them. “Help your child answer his questions,” advise Asbrand and Calvano.

Explain in an age-appropriate way.

The topic of war should be discussed in an age-appropriate manner. Children are familiar with conflicts at school or daycare. “A war is a great conflict between countries. Often, as with children, it is about the question of who owns something,” the parents’ technical letter says.

One could also try to address the positive developments and efforts of the countries, for example: “In many countries, discussions are currently taking place and a lot is being done so that the war can end as quickly as possible.

There is hope that many people can be helped.” The authors advise against having these kinds of conversations right before bed. And some kids may not even want to talk about it.

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Some of the older youth already understand the economic or geopolitical background and may want to discuss it with their parents or in class.

“Younger kids and teens, on the other hand, don’t have to understand these connections, but they should and can focus on how they’re doing in the here and now.” Talking about feelings and problems together can create “a new kind of connection” and be soothing if children hear that others have similar concerns.

In families with several children, psychologists advise asking older siblings not to overwhelm the younger ones. “In general, the topic of war should not be discussed only among children, but in the family or between parents and children,” they write.

become self-efficacy

Another strategy is to do something yourself and become “effective.” Parents and teachers could, for example, work with children or young people to consider how refugees can be helped.

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practice mindfulness

Psychologists recommend “mindfulness” to deal with situations in which a child feels overwhelmed by feelings such as sadness, anger or fear: it can help to focus on the moment, for example, on breathing, feet on the floor or a picture on the wall. Wall.

A breathing exercise that helps some: “Inhale deeply through your nose for four seconds, hold your breath for four seconds, exhale through your mouth for four seconds, hold for four seconds before inhaling again.”

Beware of media consumption

Parents should ensure that younger children in particular do not see any images of war that are difficult for them to process. Parents and teachers should point out that offline times or mindful consumption of only selected media can help overcome fears and deal with the current situation.

If teachers feel that children are repeatedly exposed to images that they cannot classify, they should talk to parents about it. Parents should also be mindful of their own media consumption and not consume the news when younger children are around.

prevent discrimination

People, including classmates, who come from Russia or Ukraine or have relatives there, may be exposed to increased prejudice as a result of the war. It should be made clear to the children that the people of Russia, for example, are not responsible for the war.

Parents should also pay attention to their language and, for example, do not compare “Russians” and “Ukrainians” as groups, but instead “People from Ukraine/Russia” or “People fleeing from war”. “. .

When refugee children from Ukraine are at school, parents should encourage their children to approach them. You can think together about how that contact could take place, if you could ask the child to play soccer, for example.

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strengthen resilience

The authors also recommend strengthening resilience, that is, strengthening resilience in crises. The central element is optimism, acceptance, solution orientation and the knowledge that you can find support in the social network.

You can ask yourself the following questions together with children and young people: What is in my life that is good? What am I thankful for? Who is like me? Who can support me and who can I support? What do I have to accept as is? What can I do, in what field can I act?

For example, you can write down three things you are grateful for each day. This can also be a nightly ritual for parents and children. “Focusing on the moment often helps keep worry from becoming overwhelming,” the specialist’s letter to parents says.

Continue with daily life and preserve normalcy

Parents should make sure to stick to the usual structures and rituals, eg eating together, putting them to bed, reading aloud, playing games, snuggling. “These strengthen your child’s emotional security and can provide comfort and support.”

Some may wonder if they are allowed to do anything good for themselves when others are having a hard time. “But here it is also important for the children that everyday life continues, which also includes fun and beautiful experiences.”

exercise helps

Parents should encourage their children and themselves to get outside and exercise every day. “You don’t have to achieve high athletic performance; a walk is enough.”

Take some time for yourself and seek support

Parents should also consciously take time for themselves. “An important prerequisite for your child’s well-being is your child’s own well-being. It is absolutely good and important that he or she be well and have fun,” Asbrand and Calvano write.

If you find that you no longer have resources for yourself and your children, you should seek support, for example from friends or family or through professional offers of help.

Parents and teachers who need further advice can also contact Sibuz, for example. These addresses and contact details can be found here. The two technical letters are available at this link.


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