Summary : The text shows how much children under six can be psychologically impacted by the rumors they often misunderstand about the war in Ukraine. It also suggests ways to accompany these children as a family.
As a preface to this text, I wish to express my sense of horror and my deep sadness about the violence that is unleashed in Ukraine. Once again, the law of the strongest will most likely prevail for some time. May this pain encourage us to patiently defend our values of brotherhood and democracy. In the end, they will prevail!
My remarks are mainly directed at children up to the age of six, but they can be used as inspiration for their elders, especially the more sensitive and introverted ones. As early as three years old, toddlers "catch on" and memorize unusual verbal expressions said by their loved ones, especially if they are emotionally charged, such as anguish, sadness or anger: "That's it, it's war... People like us, it's terrible... And did you see the little children in the subway? Putin is crazy... Let's hope it doesn't happen to us!” And as much, to some extent, for the images of the TV. They get used to these terms and to the emotion of adults, at first without understanding much, their imagination compensating for their ignorance, often in a black way:"Putin, isn't that bad grenadine? And what about the refugees, lots of aggressive cats hiding in the corners of the house, like our cat that sometimes takes refuge there? And aren't there big, menacing machines on the way to school, like I saw in a city on TV?" As they grow up, their concrete, factual knowledge is enriched and they know what war is, but they still have a thousand secret questions about what is at stake and its possible links with the past: "I'm afraid that you won't be there anymore; I'm afraid of the tanks on the ski slopes," said a five-year-old boy, questioned by his parents after recent nightmares...
Yet, spontaneously, they keep their most "serious", most personal ideas and opinions secret. Why do they do this? Because, as they know intuitively, the social status of toddlers is to keep quiet about serious things that are not supposed to interest them. If they open their mouths, they are not listened to, they are told more or less gently that they are too small or they are laughed at. Others are afraid to hurt their parents with their questions. The youngest ones are even afraid that their thinking 2 is magical, that is to say that they cause the concrete occurrence of a feared event by the mere fact of talking about it.
For many, it is therefore the long silence on all these ideas that worries them and, except for the occurrence of real dramas, the passing of time, with its new sources of information, ends up clearing and deflating these knots of anxiety. Perhaps we could nevertheless rid them more quickly of these useless burdens! The most sensitive ones show that they are invaded by new anxieties: difficulties in falling asleep, nightmares, resurgence of separation anxiety, unexpected social rejections, nervousness and irritability at home, etc.
Some of them exorcise their anxieties by drawing and telling death stories or by playing war games at recess. It is even important for their development that they identify with the "good guys" and the "bad guys".
Following the example of some families and schools that are already doing a good job, how can we best support these often secret concerns of the little ones? The most important thing is to accept that they exist in many children! And so we can first of all take care to spare them the confrontation with these disturbing words and images that do not involve them in anythingespecially if this one is unexpected, not commented and repetitive - it is the repetition of the quasi-identical that ends up breaking into them!
And so, be careful with the images of the TV, with our language when they are supposed to play next to us, and even with the atmosphere of daily life, positive or insecure, that we convey for the moment! But it's like the coronavirus: despite our precautions, it is inevitable that, here and there, seeds of disturbing words, images and emotions will penetrate their psychic space. So, let's keep our eyes and ears open! The most daring ones will perhaps say something about it, directly to us, while talking between them or in their games, evoking more than usual battles, death, disappearance " It's me Putin...You are dead, I killed you...His daddy is at war...We hide under the table, it's because of the bombs ". Signs to be seized on the fly to start a dialogue! For the majority, the silent ones, we can start the pump at a moment of the family life considered interesting, which will be well limited in time: "Who heard the word war? Ukraine? Who knows what it means?” For the less verbally evolved, we can even imagine that mom and dad talk to each other at the table but without addressing them directly, limiting themselves to a few simple words!
When toddlers are encouraged to talk and are listened to, with patience and kindness, we will often be amazed and even marvelled to discover what they already know, think and imagine, rightly or wrongly, about serious subjects! 3 What they need is a dialogue, not an information session! We are invited to listen to them patiently, going at their pace, helping them to unfold their subjective point of view, and curbing that cursed reflex that wants to criticize right away, to rectify errors of knowledge, to protect and console at all costs, stifling at the same time the continuation of their verbal expression.
Afterwards, when they have made us understand their vision of the war, with the feelings and questions that it entails, there is still time to share with them elements of our knowledge and some emotions and questions that we too are experiencing. We can also quietly rectify certain errors or false beliefs that they hold, when they are harmful to them, without knocking them down with the omnipotence of our knowledge: If Louise is afraid that bad soldiers are attacking the family home, let her first explain what it is for her: let's take her seriously and assure her that many other children (and some adults?) also have this kind of fear! And then, we need to add with assurance that it won't happen and that we will stay right there, close to her, to protect her from danger!
Certain that it won't happen? The little child must be able to rely on authentic but simplified knowledge, in keeping with his cognitive and emotional capacities. A more elaborate discussion, which would evoke weak worrying probabilities, confuses him, and even leads him to mentally cling to the worrying-improbable. To spare him this part of the discussion for a while is not to lie to him, but to respect him! During the corona crisis, I met too many little children who were confused, agitated and hyper-anguished because they were overinformed: too many details, too many abstractions, too many probabilities around variable risks, which they were unable to prioritize with serenity!
So, yes to simplification. Yes, to the reassuring word that does not take into account too low probabilities for an indefinite time. No, I am not 100% certain that war will never come to our country. But right now, I'm dreaming of constructing a fairly befuddling common knowledge with the little ones that I would summarize as follows: "Some bad guys have attacked a country far away from here. We are going to scold them very loudly because they can't, it's wrong. Mommy and Daddy (excuse me for being a little traditional...) are here with you and they will stay with you to protect you
”If I were four years old, it seems to me that this kind of exchange would help me spend a quiet night
If I were four years old, it seems to me that this kind of exchange would help me spend a quiet night