It’s been many weeks since the war between Russia and Ukraine began. While this war is “official,” many Ukrainians in strategically important cities have been living a war for eight years now.
I was born in Ukraine, and my heart goes out to every child and parent going through this hell. I built my life and family in Israel, and we here, too, accustomed to a life of fear. Post-trauma, trauma, anxiety, and depression are just a few items on the long list of the effects of war on families and individuals. So let’s try and break it down…
The Possible Effects of War on Parenting Practices
Living and parenting during a war are all about pressure and stress. When you don’t know where the next meal or the next drop of water will come from, your heart becomes a throbbing bomb.
When you don’t know how to keep your children safe, how to protect their precious lives and gentle souls, you might become overprotective or even excessively restrictive.
Your constant state of fear and worry might lead you to anxiety and depression, which will make it even harder for you to stay present with your children’s emotional needs.
Your temporary inability to offer your children safety might tell you that you’re not a good enough parent.
If You Listen to Fear
These complex feelings affect many war-exposed families who experience more conflicts, increased hostility and reduced warmth in their relationships. Listening to your fears, you will naturally show less sensitivity towards your children’s emotions, keeping to structure will become a harder challenge, and you might feel less patient to your children’s normal behaviors.
If You Listen to Love
If you’re reading this, you and your children are probably safe, and still, a title like “listen to love” might sound unbelievable and disrespectful given the situation. But it is everything but that. The truth is that you are doing everything that you can – and you are doing great.
If you could do more – you would. But you can’t. And this is the message that you can bravely tell yourself – I am doing everything that I can, and when I can do more and give more – I will.
When your soul hears these words, connection is easier, sensitivity is natural, and patience returns. You are doing your absolute best.
War, Parenting, and Children
War affects children in similar ways it affects adults; stress, pressure, trauma, post-trauma, and depression are just a partial list. Yet in most research studying the effects of war on children, one aspect is repetitive – the change in parental perceptions affects children almost as much as war does.
How we Parent through Fear
When we are driven by fear, we become overprotective and hostile to all uncertainties. Caged in survival, we block freedom and development and close the door to growth.
When we are driven by fear, we talk fear, and create more fear, even if we think we communicate safety.
If you’re reading this and your family is already safe, try and speak love and peace. Research shows that when parents are harsh and hostile, children’s relationship with their parents deteriorates, and they learn hostility, as modeled to them by their parents.
If you’re reading this and you are already safe, try to let go of being overprotective, even if you still remember what you were protecting them from. Research shows that overprotectiveness decreases children’s sense of autonomy and safety in the world, increasing their risk for anxiety and depression.
How to Parent through Love
If you are reading this, and you and your children are already safe, focus on healing.
- Share your feelings with your children. When children see that their parents have emotions that are spoken about and validated – they find the strength to express their own. “It was so frightening when x or y happened. I was so scared I didn’t know what to do. How did that make you feel? Were you scared”?
- Name your children’s feelings, and don’t try to change them. Your children will overcome it in their own time. “You must have felt scared/terrified/confused/overwhelmed when x happened. I feel the same way; we’re going to overcome it together. I here for you no matter what you might need”.
- Create a community of like-minded people to share with and talk to. Loneliness is our biggest enemy.
- Let your children be children; they’ve gone through enough and if they are powerful enough to enjoy childhood – let them. Let them run around, and play silly games. Let them express their emotions with audacity, they need it to clear their souls.
- Remember that children learn from your deeds – they don’t learn from your words—model what you wish to see in them. Complex sentences and future based explanations are not concepts children can understand. If you want your children to be kind, be kind to them. If you want your children to listen to you, be the first to listen to them. If you want your children to behave or speak a certain way – be the first to show them how it’s done.
- Speak love, speak peace, speak hope. When our homes are filled with anger towards an enemy – our children learn anger. This is how wars are created generation after generation. Feel free to think your thoughts; feel free to feel your feelings. But try to not communicate messages of hate and war to your children.
- Listen to them with an open heart, try to avoid any judgment.
- Focus on positivity and growth.
- Seek support if you feel that you can’t manage life right now. There are always people around you who want to be there for you.
Hope is Everywhere
Wars, natural disasters, and adversities of all sorts have strengthened families and connections. Often families who experienced loss choose to show more compassion and empathy to those around them, and their relationships grow more empowering and beneficial. Increased warmth and affection help parents and children heal.
When we learn the vulnerability and the inability to predict life, we also learn to appreciate ourselves more, value our strengths, and our skills.
These perceptions lead to an increased sense of parental self-efficacy, which, when modeled, is shown to raise resilient young people who are well connected to their families.
Everything is possible, and one thing is certain: YOU CAN DO IT.