How can parents support their children in shelters?

Recommendations for communicating with children during hiding.

03 March 2022

1. Let me explain the plan.

✔️Plan your route to the shelter and explain to your child the sequence of actions. Speak in short and clear terms.

✔️Draw a map of the shelter and the different areas within it: what is located where, how it works, where the entrance and exit are, where your spot is, where your relatives will be. Draw and write — children perceive visualizations better.

 2. How are you doing?

✔️ Monitor your child's state of mind and respond to their needs. Ask the child open-ended questions, and monitor their emotional state and level of activity. It is important that the child speaks, asks questions and expresses their emotions.

✔️ If a child experiences a mental block, it is important to snap them out of this by engaging in verbal communication and activity.

✔️ To do this, ask 3 questions and wait for answers. Example:

  • Your name is Natalia, right?
  • You're standing now, right?
  • You're wearing a red blouse, right?

✔️ You can also massage their fingertips and earlobes, offer to play a game or propose an action-oriented task (bring, pass, do). Don’t forget to give them water, tea, something to eat and a hug.

Respond to your child’s needs and meet them where possible. This will restore their sense of security.

 3. How do you feel?

✔️ Show and speak using emotion. If your child is worried or angry about what is happening around them, the phrases "don't worry" or "you shouldn't be angry" will not reassure the child.

Instead, say: "I see / I think you're scared / angry." This way, the child will understand that they are not being left to deal with their experiences alone.

✔️ Do not offer support in the form of promises that do not depend on you. For example: "Everything will be fine" or "nothing bad will happen”. Instead, say: "Whatever happens, we are together."

✔️ If children play or draw "war", do not stop them. Allow them to play, shout, voice or visualize an emotion (for example, growl like a dog). This way you can help them to cope with emotions and reduce anxiety and stress.

 4. Let me hug you

✔️ Hug the child. Physical contact will help reduce stress and calm the child down. You can try one of the following exercises:

  • "Butterfly hug" — the child hugs their shoulders with both arms and can pat themselves on the shoulders.
  • "Waterfall" — an adult approaches the child and strokes them from the shoulders downward to the waist, as if brushing something off the shoulders.
  • "Cocoon" — the child's right arm hugs the left shoulder and the left arm the abdomen.

✔️ Stable breathing can help to reduce stress. To do this, try the following exercise: Inhale through the nose and exhale slowly through the mouth, while pronouncing "A" or "O" sounds. Restoring stable breathing and physical activity will help reduce the impact of an event and stress on the body.

 5. What is our daily routine?

✔️ In times of uncertainty, it is important to reproduce the daily routine. This will give you a sense of control over your own life. From the morning to the evening, count on your fingers as you go through the daily routine.

 6. I take care of you and myself

✔️ Take care of yourself. You will help your child more effectively if you take care of yourself. Your child sees how you react to the news and imitates your actions. Therefore, it is important for them to understand that you are calm and have a plan of action. If you are worried or upset, take time for yourself and, if possible, talk to friends and family. It is important to hear others’ voices. It will give you a sense of unity and connection with the world.

 7. We can get through everything!

✔️ Pay attention to how you end conversations. It is important for a child to know that they will not be abandoned. When you end the conversation, evaluate their emotional state and level of physical reaction: observe their body language, evaluate their level of anxiety and end the conversation on a positive note. Initiate routine traditions at the end of each day (hugging, praying, drinking tea or singing).

✔️ Limit the number of conversations and news programmes about the war in the presence of a child.
Give the child only verified information. Do it in moderation and according to age.