How to Talk to Kids About the War in Ukraine: 4 Answers & Tools Parents Need, From a Parenting Educator by Laura Linn Knight
Q. What do you say to kids of different age levels about the war in Ukraine?
A. Most kids by now have heard about the Russian invasion of Ukraine and many of them are feeling nervous and confused. Children may be hearing things from friends at school, watching the news play in the background at home, or seeing images pop up on their social media feeds.
When my 7-year-old daughter first heard about what was going on in Ukraine, she asked where we would go if there was a war here in the United States. It immediately brought up fear of her safety and our families safety. My son, who is older, had question after question: Why were they fighting? Was this a real war? Were people being killed? Who would win? Would people have to fight even if they didn’t want to?
Both of these responses are very valid and normal. You may be experiencing similar questions in your home, and if you are, here are tools that can help as you figure out how to talk to kids about it.
Tool #1: Be Curious
Parents can waiver between over sharing and under sharing with their child. Before you begin to share with your child about what is going on though, find out what they are hearing outside of your home.
This may sound like:
- Have you heard anything at school about Russia and Ukraine?
- If you have heard anything, what was it? How did that make you feel?
- Do you have any questions for us, as your parents/caregivers, about what is going on?
Asking questions gives you an understanding of what information your child knows, their feelings surrounding what is happening and it creates a good platform from which you can dive into offering facts and support (which brings me to Tool #2).
Tool #2: Share Facts
In times of fear, knowing the facts can help the brain from running away with a story of worry. My daughter, for instance, was the perfect example of a child who needed to know some facts about what was going on so that she didn’t create a story in her mind.
Depending on your child’s developmental stage, you can share facts about what is going on appropriate to their age. And, if you aren’t sure yourself what the facts are, this will be a good opportunity to find some established, reputable and non-biased resources where you can do some research with your child (or alone and relay the information back).
If your child has a question and you aren’t sure what the answer is or how to best answer it, let your child know that you appreciate their question and that you need to do some more research before circling back to answer.
This is also a good opportunity to look at the use of social media as a news platform. What accounts is your child following? Can you share with them the difference between people giving their opinions and people sharing facts? What is the best way for your child to get news?
These are important screen time topics that I share about in my upcoming book, Break Free from Reactive Parenting, and they feel even more relevant and needed now.
Tool #3: Offer Support
As the days continue and the devastation in Ukraine grows, your child will most likely be hearing and seeing more things pertaining to this invasion.
Often, it is hard for a child to articulate their feelings when it comes to something as big as this. It is hard to make sense of it all as an adult, so imagine how a child must feel with their main emotional processing point of the brain still developing.
Even if you have had one or two conversations about what is going on, don’t assume that your child doesn’t need more support. Let you child know that you are available if any questions come up or if they are just feeling like they need some extra cuddle/hang time.
Additionally, you don’t have to wait for your child to come to you. Offer extra hugs, be available for when questions arise and talk to you children about what you can do as a family to help (which, leads me to my last tool).
Tool #4: Donate When Possible
In times of need and crisis, children feel good when they can help. Instead of just watching things unfold, brainstorm ways that your family can help support the people caught in the chaos of war.
Part of our families tradition around weekly allowance is that the allowance is divided into three jars: Spend, Save and Share. My children are looking forward to giving their "share" money to an organization that is offering help.
Additionally, my children started a candle business this year where they donate 20 percent of their profits to children and animals in need. We are already researching ways to donate their profits to an organization.
If your child doesn't already have a way to donate, perhaps a fundraiser can be organized at their school? Or what about setting up a lemonade stand? Be creative as your child looks for ways that they can contribute.
Not only will you be helping people and children of this war, but your child will be feeling less powerless (along with learning about the beauty of giving).
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