Russia’s attack on Ukraine has been a top story in the media across the globe, and the violent news can be difficult emotionally, even for adults. It may feel best to steer children away from sensitive topics like war, discrimination, or even sex, but in reality, they are likely to overhear pieces of information on their own. Discussing these subjects with a trusted adult can keep their information accurate, as well as validate any strong emotions or questions they may have.
Francyne Zeltser, PsyD, Child, Adolescent and Adult Psychologist and Clinical Director of Psychology at Manhattan Psychology Group, offers tips on how to discuss news like the Russia-Ukraine conflict with children:
1. Don’t drive the conversation; follow the child’s lead
Allow children to tell you what they know about a topic rather than sharing with them outright to understand the scope of information. “Instead of asking ‘Have you heard about the war in Ukraine?’ you can ask, ‘Have you heard anything in the news lately?’” suggests Dr. Zeltser.
2. Debunk any of the child’s misconceptions
It is important that the child does not have false information, which can lead to confusion or unrealistic expectations. Dr. Zeltser says, “Let the child tell you what they know, then share age appropriate facts with them and clarify inaccurate ones.
3. Break down complex concepts using child-friendly analogies
Talk about facts that are understandable for children. “You don’t have to explain something intricate like sanctions, for example, but find relatable parallels for children,” Dr. Zeltser explains. “You could say, ‘Every single country has someone in charge, like how your school has a principal. Let’s say each classroom is a country, each teacher is president of the country, and the principal is NATO. If the country isn’t doing the right thing, NATO can come in just like the principal can come into a classroom.”
4. Provide historical context for better perspective
“It will help reassure the child’s safety to understand that these frightening events have happened before, and we are here safely,” Dr. Zeltser states. You can reference wars that have occurred in the past, explain why they occurred, and tell how they ended in simple language. “If you provide children with education on war and what it means, they can have less fear of these unknown events.”
5. Use a map to assure children they are safe
If you place the war in Ukraine in a global context, your children will better understand that the violent events are not going to happen at home. “You can reassure children through a geography lesson,” Dr. Zeltser shares. “On a map, point and say ‘This is where we live. This is how close home is to school, and this is how close home is to where the war is right now. It is far away from us.”
6. Address children and families in a war crisis without instilling fear
The war is impacting children in Ukraine, and you can address it with children through a more supportive outlook. Dr. Zelster says, “You can tell children, ‘Right now, families in Ukraine are fighting to be together. Parents are doing everything they can to keep their children safe. Some family members there are involved in the war, and others are working together to support the children as best they can.’”
7. Suggest ideas for ways they can help people in Ukraine
Thinking of actions that children can take from afar to help families in Ukraine can instill a sense of involvement and change in them. “We can talk with children about how they can write letters, provide supplies, or donate money to offer shelter and safety,” Dr. Zeltser offers. “Even if kids just give five cents, they can feel like they’re making a difference.”