Susan C. Stone's Practical Parenting Blog dotcom

How to Explain the Ukraine War to Children

Posted on: March 8, 2022


We are living in a scary world. As adults, we struggle with our emotions while seeing the devastation wreaked on an innocent nation. Children are inevitably exposed to this – through TV, radios, news sites on the computer, newspapers, overhearing adult conversations and even information they hear on the playground. How do we make sense of this for them? Being appropriate, discreet and aware of how you act and react is the key to your children feeling safe, secure and optimistic about life in  an uncertain world. The following are 7 ways you can help:

  1. BE PARENTAL – always convey that you are in charge; make clear the distinction between adult and kid decisions; continue with your same rules and limits and their enforcement; When children perceive that you and the other adults in their lives are “the big people in charge”, they feel secure and protected and believe the information you supply.
  2. CONTROL THE FLOW OF INFORMATION – control access to the news according to the age of your child and their need to know. Very young children (below the age of 8) should be protected, as well as you can, from any information about the ongoing events. Images on TV, in newspapers and magazines are horrific and frightening. Also, remember that even though children are small, they can still hear! Information overheard on the radio, TV, your phone conversations and dinner table talk can only cause them anxiety. Older children will, and should, receive information but need you to put it in context for them. The appropriate context is that this war is very far away (use a globe to emphasize this) and will not come here. However, older children do need to understand the basic dynamics of the conflict and why we care. Finally, avoid constant, repetitive news viewing which increases anxiety for both adults and children.
  3. COMMUNICATE WITH YOUR CHILDREN – to answer questions, correct misconceptions, and to provide education, perspective and reassurance. Be available for children to express their questions, feelings and concerns. This will most likely happen when children have alone time with you. Also, be aware of children’s non-verbal expressions of concern and fears – play themes, changes in their habits, signs of stress. If it seems they have concerns, you need to bring up the topic – “It seems like you’re worried about something” or “You’re not wanting to sleep alone. Why do you think that changed?” Do not answer their questions in a dismissive or minimizing way. Instead, acknowledge and label their feelings. Explanations and answers should be honest, simple, accurate and age-appropriate; answer only what they want to know. Below Grade 2, help them distinguish between reality and fantasy, between cartoon villians and heroes and real aggressors, soldiers and rescuers. Their imaginative play themes, drawings and story-telling are opportunities to correct misconceptions. For older children, incorporate events, issues and geography into your responses. Teach media literacy so children understand why news coverage is so intense and on-going. For all children, it’s important to provide perspective. Put information they receive into a broader context beyond their literal and limited viewpoint – they are not going to experience this war themselves, war does end, good guys win. If any outcomes of the conflict, such as higher prices will effect your decisions as a family, you want to assure children that their basic needs will be met even though some optional expenditures may need to be suspended for now.
  4. .BE  AWARE OF YOUR REACTIONS – Don’t express your own distress in front of children – present yourself as being calm and in control. At the same time, be aware if you are acting more impatient, yelling more or being preoccupied. While children may not know the source of your upset, they take in that you’re acting differently. Often, they will blame themselves for this. Instead, telling them that you have grown up problems on your mind will relieve them of this worry.
  5. MAINTAIN ROUTINES – Keep to normal daily schedules and activities. Continue normal expectations for children’s behavior and schoolwork. Keep family traditions and plan for future activities.
  6. ENGAGE CHILDREN IN VOLUNTEER ACTIVITIES – If you choose to make your children aware on any level of the conflict in Ukraine, think about how they might contribute in a positive way. This gives children a sense of control and of having some small influence in the world. They can contribute money, select toys or clothing to contribute, accompany you in any volunteer efforts you engage in.
  7. BE ALERT TO ONGOING STRESS IN CHILDREN – Children can suffer from stress as much as adults do They show us their distress through physical, emotional and behavioral means. Please see my blog on signs of stress in children. Communication goes along way towards relieving their stress. If it continues or seems debilitating, it may be time to seek professional help.

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