Images of fathers leaving their families to stay behind. Videos of explosions. Photographs of children harmed. How should we talk about the Ukraine crisis with our children?
Our Fegans counsellors provide some suggestions below for engaging in conversations about the situation in Ukraine.
Three reasons to talk to children about the war in Ukraine
- To help children process difficult emotions that may arise. Having a supportive discussion about a stressful event can decrease distress. In other words, it’s always best to address ‘the elephant in the room’. Having these conversations provides you with the opportunity to help your child make sense of how they might be feeling and to provide reassurance.
- To combat misinformation. Children and teens will already have seen or read about the invasion of Ukraine. If that information is from TikTok and Snapchat, then they have probably seen misinformation. Your job is to keep children informed about the war based on reliable information from reputable sources, and to provide opportunities for children to ask questions.
- To encourage compassionate views towards others. Talking to children about the war in Ukraine can encourage compassion. This is an opportunity to understand the emotions of others. Try asking your children “what might someone else in this situation be feeling right now?”
Conversations with children under the age of five
If your child asks you a question about what is happening, provide them with simple information and avoid providing more detail than requested.
For example, you could say “one country is not being very nice to another country and it is making people feel upset.”
For children of all ages, it’s important to monitor their exposure to news and media, especially violent content. Also, minimise what young children overhear of adult conversations.
Conversations with school-aged children and teenagers
First, make sure that you are feeling calm enough to have the discussion. If you are feeling upset, tired or anxious, it is best to give yourself some time before initiating the conversation.
Start by asking your child what they have heard about the conflict in Ukraine.
Next, validate and normalise how they are feeling. If they say it’s distressing for them, you can say: “It can be scary to think about a war; most kids and adults feel scared too.” If your child does not know very much or does not seem to be very concerned about what is happening, just keep the discussion brief.
Talking about the distance between the UK and ongoing fighting can be helpful. It’s a fact that wars are happening across the globe and have been ongoing throughout your child’s life. Tweens may want to watch Newsround which explains events clearly and in an age-appropriate way. You could even sit and watch it together and then have a discussion about what you’ve heard.
Choose age-appropriate news sources
Regardless of whether they are distressed or not, you can share some factual age-appropriate information. Teenagers’ brains are wired to find out things for themselves, rather than be told, so direct them to reliable information sources.
Most importantly, children need reassurance that adults will do everything they can to keep them safe.
By talking, you show your child that you are willing and open to having discussions, even when times are tough. This can help build a lasting foundation to talk about difficult topics.
The Information Age
Our children are not the first generation of children to grow up with wars. What is new is how this generation of young people are accessing and consuming news. It is therefore vital for children to be adequately informed and reassured by the adults they trust, and to be provided with opportunities to make sense of how they might be feeling as distressing events unfold.