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How to discuss the war in Ukraine with children

Ukraine
Parenting

How to discuss the war in Ukraine with children

The news is often full of scary and frightening images and reports that can be difficult for us as adults to process and understand, let alone for our children. In the past 2.5 years we have lived through difficult times and just when we were hoping this was going to start to lift a little, we are hearing terrible news and seeing horrific images coming out of Ukraine. There is so much talk at the moment of war, invasions and bombings, so knowing when and how we broach this with our children, how we answer their questions if they have them and talk through their anxieties is not easy.

What age should I talk about it?

Generally, if your child is likely to hear about it or is worried then it is appropriate to talk about it, using language appropriate for your child’s age.

  • In general children under 7 tend not to be too aware of world events. It is absolutely ok for young children to have little awareness of what is happening and for that to remain so. If they do ask questions and seek reassurance, they need to know they are safe and you are there to keep them safe.
  • Children between 7 and 11 will likely have some awareness of major world events and may want to ask questions. They may have overheard conversations or had other children talking about it at school. Be aware what your child is looking at on the internet, if they have access to it. There are some great child friendly news sites available. BBC Newsround is a good one for the 7 – 12 year old bracket and can also give you idea of how to explain what is happening.
  • Teenagers will have a wider grasp of what is happening and will also have access to social media, which can be full of misinformation. It is a good idea to check in with what your child actually knows, correct anything that is not right and listen to their concerns. Ask them what they feel might help them, and try to make sure they have access to reliable and trustworthy news resources.

Things to think about:

  • Be aware of what you discuss with other adults and the language you use in front of your child. Also, be careful of what they may see on the news or online as images can be distressing.
  • Think about your own feelings. Children quickly pick up on when we are feeling anxious or worried ourselves and this can heighten their own feelings. Although it is hard, try to have a conversation with your child when you are not feeling overwhelmed and anxious yourself.
  • Think about what you want to say in advance so that you feel more prepared. Try to keep any conversation with your child positive, acknowledging their feelings without stepping in to problem solve.

Starting the conversation:

  • Firstly, find out what they do know and how they got that information. Take time to listen to what they say and what they feel about it. Take time to check what they have said, “What do you mean by that?”
  • Go at your child’s pace and try not to overload them with too much information. Follow your child’s lead – if they do not want to talk, don’t push it. However, make sure they know you are there to talk to and listen if they want to.
  • Conversations do not have to be long and drawn out. We sometimes have a tendency to overload with too much language and explanation. Take the time to listen to your child and watch their reactions.
  • Answer questions as honestly and simply as you can. If you don’t know the answer, let your child know, but say that you will find out.
  • Be careful about the language you use around your child, making sure it does not add to any anxiety or stress they are feeling. Check in with them when you are talking with them ‘are you ok? It can feel scary’.
  • Don’t make promises like ‘it will all be fine’ as we don’t know what might happen, but you can reassure them ‘you are safe and I will take care of you.’
  • Give permission to come back and ask questions ‘If you have any other questions or worries then you can ask me anything.’

Written by Sarah Curnow Webb and Michelle Cooke, Child Behaviour Specialists at Parent Cloud