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How to help a child survive separation from one of the parents due to war

The war in Ukraine separated millions of families. Many mothers with their children went abroad, while the husbands, the children's fathers, stayed at home. In many families, the father or mother went to the ranks of the Armed Forces, and therefore the children see them extremely rarely.

How can we help children cope with this separation more easily and not lose contact with one of their parents?

The world of small children is very self-centered, it seems to the child that everything that is done around him directly affects him. If the father or mother is not around, the child may think that he was specifically abandoned, that there is something more important to his parents than him, that he did something wrong, that his father or mother took offense at him, and that is why they are not around.

Therefore, the child must be constantly told that he is loved, that he has not done anything wrong, that dad is not around because there is a war in the country, and mom and her have moved to safety, or that dad or mom are fighting at the front and protecting us.

When explaining exactly what is happening in the country, it is important to be honest with the child and not make promises that you cannot fulfill, for example, that the war will end soon, dad/mom will be back soon. At the same time, it is not necessary to give the child unnecessary, difficult details and it is not necessary to draw him the worst scenarios in order to prepare him for a possible loss. All troubles must be dealt with as they arise.

You should hug the child more often and talk to him about his feelings. Children, especially young ones, may not understand exactly what is happening to them. It is important for the child to express his emotions - this, as it were, "legalizes", gives the child the right to feel what he feels. If a child says, “I miss dad,” you can respond, “I see you miss dad. This is normal. I miss him a lot too. He is now defending the country/at home working to win and glad we are safe.”

It is very important to turn any emotional tension into an action in order to remove the feeling of helplessness, for example, offer to do something for the father/mother: cook their favorite dish, take a photo or record the whole process on video and send it to them, paint a picture, make some kind of product, learn a poem, and then tell it to dad/mother, come up with a dance for dad/mother.

If possible, it is necessary to maintain telephone or video communication between the father/mother and the child. You can do it every day or once a week. The main thing is not quantity, but quality. Agree on days and times for such communication.

During communication, it is important not only to ask the child "how are you doing?", "what have you been doing?", but also to talk about specific things and topics that interest the child. Dad/mother can read fairy tales to small children, tell how the day went.

With teenagers, parents can agree to watch the same movie, read a chapter from the same book, and then discuss them.

If video calls and phone calls are difficult, dad/mother can record a video of walking down the street, feeding a cat or a dog. This allows the child to focus on what one parent is doing now, not on the fact that he/she is away.

Dad/mother can ask the child to do something for them until they return: help carry groceries, water flowers, wash dishes. The child will feel that he is doing something useful and will feel calmer. It is also very important for teenagers to feel their importance to others in order to increase their self-confidence. Together with dad/mom, they can talk about how a teenager can help bring victory closer: weaving camouflage nets, volunteering, taking care of an animal that was left without owners.

You can give the child family photos, photos of dad/mom and look at them together and remember some funny and pleasant family stories. Teens can wear a mom/dad t-shirt or jumper to remind them of them.

It is very important not to lose hope, to dream and plan what you will do together with your father/mother when you meet again.

Source: Ministry of Health

We would like to remind you that on our website you can find information about where you can go for psychological help for teenagers.

The material was prepared within the framework of the implementation of the All-Ukrainian mental health program How are you? on the initiative of Olena Zelenska.

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