How To Talk To Your Kids About Conflict And War
The war in Ukraine is a distressing reality, one that’s both difficult to witness and discuss, especially with our children. Here are some ways to help provide support, clarity and comfort.
With news about Ukraine reaching our phones, TVs, computer screens and newspapers, it’s inevitable that our children are going to learn — from somewhere or someone — about the current war and its atrocities or overhear us talking about it. They might very well be picking up on our collective distress and feel it deeply themselves.
While the subject is a difficult one to tackle, there are some ways to talk to your children about conflict and war in a way that will help assuage their fears and provide reassurance and comfort.
Discover what they know (or don’t)
When you’re driving in the car, eating dinner, or just hanging out together, find a time to bring up the topic naturally and without pressure. Avoid talking about this charged subject when your child might be in a hurry, feeling stressed, or getting ready for bed. Simply ask if they’ve heard about what’s going on, and if they’re interested in talking about it. If they aren’t aware of the current conflict, don’t press the issue.
If they do know a bit about the Ukraine-Russian conflict, ask them how they found out about it and what they think is happening. They might be a bit confused or unclear. Assure them that war is confusing and complicated. You don’t need to get into detail, but rather simply listen and clarify as needed.
Explore their feelings
Because younger children might not be able to distinguish between the reality of what they see on screen and their own lives, they might feel especially anxious, worried and scared. Older children might have been exposed to some deeply disturbing images. It’s important to let your kids express how these experiences made them feel. Let them know their reactions are completely understandable, that it’s natural to feel [anxious, scared, worried, etc.] in light of all that’s happening.
If your child exhibits unrelenting distress or regression for an extended period of time, you may wish to seek the support of a mental health practitioner, especially if your child has experienced earlier trauma.
Listen & offer reassurance
More than anything, your children want to know they’re safe. Take time to calmly listen and offer reassurance, both with gentle words and warm cuddles. They might be acting a bit more clingy than usual and even regress. Rest assured these are reactions to the stress they’re encountering. Simply knowing you’re there for them, both physically and emotionally, will make a positive difference.
Limit their exposure to upsetting images and headlines
From the time we wake up until just before bed, we’re bombarded with the latest news. Kids see, hear and absorb so much more than we realize, so be mindful of what you’re reading or watching while in the company of your little ones. Whenever possible, prevent them from seeing images or hearing news or sounds that might be upsetting. The less the better.
Recognize and regulate your own emotions
Children pick up on our feelings in a big way, so do your best to track your own anxiety levels, and remember to take care of yourself, too. After all, your children look to you for both modeling and support. You are their safety, their home base. They will feel more calm and secure if they observe these behaviors in you.
Avoid labels to prevent prejudice and discrimination
While the war on Ukraine is overwhelming and devastating, do not place blame on an entire culture, because it will only lead to black-and-white thinking and labeling. Conflicts that are happening in faraway countries can hit very close to home, especially for people who share that heritage, so it’s important for children to practice understanding and tolerance rather than prejudice and discrimination.
Share stories of courage and kindness
When appropriate, share stories that reflect acts of selflessness, of generosity and kindness. They help demonstrate the courage, love, and humanity that exists everywhere in the world, even during the hardest of times—and sometimes especially then.
Find ways to give back
Empower your child to be thoughtful and proactive. Whether by raising money for fellow children in crisis, writing a poem, story or poster focusing on peace, or participating in a local event, they will feel better knowing they took action to make a positive, meaningful difference.