By Leila Holmyard, CIS International Advisor
Our hearts are heavy as we learn how conflict around the world is impacting colleagues, students and their families in schools and universities. In this blog, we offer guidance for those working to support schools, students, and their families as they try to make sense of and navigate these distressing times wherever they are.
Supporting communities directly impacted
We work closely with organizations that can provide direct support to impacted people. Several are listed further below. They're offering a range of support from hotlines to support groups.
Supporting communities exposed to distressing news
Providing the opportunity for people to express their thoughts, hopes and fears in a supportive environment is key, whether your school or university is in session on campus or virtually.
The International Taskforce on Child Protection published guidelines (2021) on how to lead student engagement sessions effectively when discussing any type of risk. You can link to these resources via the CIS website. These guidelines are helpful for staff, too.
Here are ten principles to guide our work with students who may be exposed to distressing news related to conflicts.
- Providing reassurance to students. This resource from Dr Dan Siegel provides actionable classroom strategies. You can also explain to students that adults are working very hard to get help to those who need it by talking about the actions being taken to address safety in your school or university community. This guidance from Linden Global Learning How to Talk to Kids About Conflict and War-Tips & Resources for Parents outlines ways to speak to different age groups, from 7 year olds to parents.
- Acknowledge their emotions and explain that all feelings are okay. Let students know that it is normal to feel this way in these circumstances, and you could say, ‘I can imagine that made you feel scared/worried/frightened/sad.’ You may also wish to model appropriate expressions of feelings, including any uncertainty you may feel yourself.
- Provide opportunities to ask questions and answer them as honestly and clearly as you can, in age-appropriate ways. In answering questions, you can help students to separate real from imagined fears and provide factual information to correct misinformation. You can also help children separate realities from fantasy they may have seen in computer games or movies.
- Avoid volunteering too much information. Instead, focus on answering their questions, being mindful of the amount of detail shared. The National Association of School Psychologists suggests using a broadening technique for responding to younger children’s questions, for example: ‘It sounds like you have some concerns about that. Let's talk about how our school community is supporting one another.’
- Maintain routine. While giving students opportunities to answer questions and engage in age-appropriate learning is important, maintaining a sense of structure is just as important, especially for elementary-age children. Use Check-ins and Optimistic Closures to support transitions and foster a positive beginning and ending to your class time with students.
- Keep talking. It’s okay to return to the topic as often as a child needs to make sense of what they have heard. But, when they seem comfortable to move on to something else, let the subject go. Consider the whole group’s needs in a classroom setting and work with individuals as needed. Parents/carers may benefit from guidance such as this UNICEF article on how to talk to children about conflict and war.
- Limit exposure to television and social media. You might share strategies with parents/carers for reducing student exposure to disturbing images. For example, this Washington Post article offers guidance on how to limit graphic social media images on different social media. This Common Sense Media article and these Childnet International resources (Article and Activity) give age-specific tips for talking to kids about upsetting content they see online.
- Be aware of somatic/bodily responses to anxiety, such as headaches, stomach aches and fatigue. Students may also feel a lack of appetite, increased distractibility or difficulty sleeping. The Child Mind Institute offers guidance on what to do and what to avoid doing when children are anxious.
- For younger children, their worries may show up in play or art or through behavioural changes. You might notice a regression in behaviour, such as a toileting regression or difficulty managing emotions. Concerns raised through play or artwork should be addressed on an individual basis. However, for young children, being with a trusted adult can help them cope with stress and make sense of distressing situations.
- Take care of the adults in your community. Teacher well-being is a predictor of student well-being, and school leaders can apply some of the above principles to support staff, including making time to talk and answer questions, acknowledging emotions, and supporting colleagues to take care of their own physical and mental health.
Further CIS resources
A school staff guide for supporting students impacted by the crisis in Ukraine. CIS Affiliated Consultant Ellen Mahoney of Sea Change Mentoring offers further strategies to help educators support students in such times.
How should schools respond to conflicts? Nicholas Alchin, Head, UWCSEA East Campus, Singapore, provides guidance for how international schools can respond to conflict.
A CIS Briefing on Trauma-Informed Practices is available here and for our members via the CIS Community portal>KnowledgeBase>Briefings. Written by Ava Shabnum Hasan of Mentally Well Schools and CIS Affiliated Consultant Dr Doug Walker, this briefing provides an overview of trauma-informed practices and strategies for implementation in international schools.
How to talk to kids about conflict and war—Tips and resources for parents. This blog from CIS Supporting Member Linden Global Learning assists adults in guiding their children through these challenging discussions.
If you are struggling to address tensions in your community as people express their hopes and fears, you may find these additional voices and resources useful: How might international schools position themselves in times of armed conflict? by Conrad Hughes, Director General, International School of Geneva, and the Campus Free Speech Guide by PEN America, an organization describing itself as an 'intersection of literature and human rights to protect free expression in the United States and worldwide.'
Expert advice, counselling and support for directly and indirectly impacted people
CIS Affiliated Consultants are fully screened experts available and on call to help support your community, including all ages within your student body.
Doug Walker, Child Psychologist
Location: United States
Doug is available to support schools with students directly affected in regions of conflict.
Dr Walker delivers training and provides consultation for schools and universities experiencing external and internal threats and crises that impair learning environments and the social-emotional well-being of students, faculty, and administration. As a master trainer of Psychological First Aid (PFA), Skills for Psychological Recovery (SPR) and Cognitive Behavioral Intervention for Trauma in Schools (CBITS), he also assists schools and universities in updating and improving their crisis response and recovery plans.
Linden Global Learning and Support (*providing free services to impacted families)
Founders: Dr Christina Limbird & Chineme Ugbor
Location: Berlin, Germany
Phone: +49 (0)30 555 10936
The Linden Global team are setting up hotlines and resources, offering free workshops for schools on how to support children through crisis. They also have a list of tips and guidance in this blog post.
The team are multidisciplinary experts who help international schools by connecting students and teachers with the educational and mental health support they need, wherever they are in the world. Our specialists include mental health counsellors, school psychologists, speech therapists, occupational therapists, special needs teachers, and behaviour specialists.
Sea Change Mentoring
Location: United States
Ellen and team are ready to share support groups for educators impacted by the crisis and PD for educators who need support to work with students. They are also offering a mentoring group for leaders to be there for them through the difficult decisions.
Ellen’s primary expertise is in youth mentoring and third culture kid development. She works through a transitions-informed lens and actively advocates for comprehensive child safeguarding.
- Intercultural learning & leadership
- Student well-being