Our children have been faced with a lot of uncertainty and change recently. Now they are being faced with terror and worry as they hear news about the war in Ukraine. Some of us may feel it’s important they understand what’s happening. Or we may want to protect them from it completely. So what’s the ‘right’ thing to do? How can we deal with what’s happening in a way that helps our children and doesn’t harm them? Trying to work out the best for our children can create anxiety in us. It’s a really challenging one, and if you’re feeling unsure about it, believe me you’re definitely not alone.

Whether we like it or not, our children will be receiving messages from all around them, in ways which may be out of our control, whether through bits of news they catch or rumours in the playground. But children are very perceptive and will also be picking up on our response to what’s going on, even when we think we’re doing a good job of hiding it! They will be impacted by what we say, what we don’t say, our tone of voice, our body language and the way we express (and don’t express) our feelings. That’s the bad news! The good news is that if we become more aware of our own reactions, then we can behave more consciously with our children. Once we understand what’s happening within ourselves, we can help our children to cope with what’s happening inside themselves with more openness and honesty. This may not be the most comfortable path, but I believe it is the best for all our long-term wellbeing.

Let’s start by looking at what goes on inside us when awful things happen. When something dark happens in the world, it connects with the dark places inside us. It triggers old experiences, stories, memories and pain. Our reactions to what is happening now are not only about what is happening right now. Our past comes back to haunt us and old feelings of fear, terror, anger, helplessness or confusion – aspects that may have been lying dormant – may get woken up. This is why a whole hoard of reactions – dark thoughts, uncomfortable emotions, even physical sensations like pain or lethargy – can start bubbling up to the surface.

So what can we do? We can allow the feelings to be here and sit with them. We can give them some time and attention, the way we might do with someone we deeply love. We can show them kindness, understanding, patience and compassion. Whenever feelings arise in us, we always have the choice to either turn away from them or turn towards them. Turning away from our feelings might include ignoring them, suppressing them, dismissing them or trying to fix them. Turning towards them involves sitting with them, being with them, feeling them, letting them be as they are. When we start to become aware of and accept how we ourselves are feeling, we are then in a much better position to help our children be with and accept how they are feeling.

Being with our feelings is a magical way to build a sense of acceptance and compassion for ourselves and each other. You can use these Questions for ME (Mindful Embodiment) to help your children notice and accept how they are feeling. They may even evolve into some creative expression such as painting, movement or making sounds. If you can, try to let whatever wants to be expressed, get expressed. (Taken from my book ‘Being With Our Feelings: A Mindful Approach to Wellbeing for Children’ by Anita Kate Garai (Routledge 2022))

  1. Can you notice what’s happening in your body right now?
  2. Does the feeling have a colour?
  3. Does the feeling have a shape?
  4. Does the feeling have a texture?
  5. Does the feeling have a movement?
  6. Does the feeling have a sound?
  7. Where in your body can you feel it?

Children’s questions around why the war is happening, or whether we are in danger, are very challenging to answer. These questions and others like these, are coming from an anxious mind. It can help to remember that anxious thoughts are a sign of fear. So rather than focussing on resolving our children’s anxious questions, my suggestion is that we acknowledge that they are feeling scared and give the feeling of fear some attention together, using the Questions for Mindful Embodiment. Doing this helps children come away from the anxious thoughts in their heads, (which focus on the past or the future), and come down into their bodies and into this moment right now.

5 things you can do:

  1. Shift your mindset from ‘I need to resolve this’ to ‘I can be with this.’
  2. Notice your own feelings and allow yourself to feel them.
  3. Use the Questions for Mindful Embodiment to support your children to be with their feelings.
  4. Remember that fear, anger, sadness are all natural responses to what is happening. Let all the feelings be here and let them move.
  5. Keep breathing!

Anita Kate Garai is a teacher, writer and mindful wellbeing expert. She supports schools and other organisations through speaking, workshops and training. Her book ‘Being With Our Feelings: A Mindful Approach to Wellbeing for Children’ (Routeldge 2022) – four children’s books and a teaching toolkit – is now available to preorder from all good bookshops.

@AnitaKateG @beingwithourfeelings