The world changed in just a few days once Russia announced it was invading Ukraine. Regardless of our political opinions, it is a scary time for millions around the world as we watch the conflict take place day by day. For those with special ties or family in Ukraine, it’s even harder to watch the war take place from a distance.
If you feel anxious, scared, or worried about the conflict in Ukraine, there’s no doubt your child will pick up on that too. They may not understand why you seem distraught, or they may see glimpses of the news on different social media sites.
It’s never easy to talk to your kids about scary events such as war, but it is better for you to tell them than for them to hear the unfiltered truth from the news or their peers. Here are some things to keep in mind before talking to your child about the current conflict in Ukraine.
Process the News Yourself
Before discussing the war with your child, process your feelings about the news first. If you’re feeling angry, sad, or worried, your child will pick up on that before you say anything and become more stressed or worried. Give yourself some time to understand the facts, process how you feel about it, and work through your initial responses. It’s crucial to remain calm when talking about scary situations with your child, even if you feel scared yourself. You can share that you feel worried—however, make sure you model calm behavior to put them more at ease.
Consider Your Child’s Age
The amount of information you share depends on your child’s age. For children under 8 years old, they only need a simple and brief explanation. It’s more important to reassure them that they are safe and protected right now. Older students between ages 8 and 12 can handle a little bit more, and you can talk about safety plans or alternatives to violence. If your children are between 13 and 18, they may have stronger opinions and may be exposed to news on social media sites. Be open to hearing what they have to say and discuss how they can promote kindness and safety in their communities.
State the Facts
Your children may have a lot of questions about scary events, and often we don’t have the answers. It’s OK to tell them you are scared too and don’t know what will happen, but make sure to stick to the facts and not create theories to explain different behaviors. Be brief when you tell them the facts, especially if you’re talking to a younger child. For example, you can tell your child that many people have died or gotten injured, but you don’t need to expose them to violent or disturbing clips or images or get specific about how people died or were injured.
Allow Time for Them to Process and Ask Questions
During times like these, it’s vital for children to feel like they can come to you when they are afraid or worried. Don’t try to minimize or dismiss their fears but sympathize with their feelings about the situation. Kids may have very different reactions to the news. Some may feel devastated, others apathetic. Accept their various emotions and expect that some children may express their emotions or have questions later after they’ve processed the news.
This is a great moment to teach them how to cope with big feelings like stress, worry, sadness, or fear. Some might have questions or be unable to understand why Russia is attacking, and it’s OK not to have the answers. You can talk instead about what a person could do if they feel angry or cheated, such as calming down before talking it out, working out a compromise, or coming up with a different solution.
Choose the Hopeful Perspective
For any tragedies that children may wish they could change, help them see it from a different and more hopeful perspective. Making sense of difficult events by discussing different perspectives and choosing to remain hopeful will allow your child to create their own narratives for their experiences. They may not have the power to change their situation, but they do have the power to change their understanding of it.
As Mr. Rogers once said, “When I was a boy, and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’” Remind your children that though the world might seem terrifying and uncertain right now, there are still good people. You can tell them in brief terms about the countries standing up against Russia, the people protesting against the conflict, and all of the organizations doing their best to support the people in Ukraine.
This is an opportunity for you to be the helper for your child, to turn off the news and reassure your child that they are safe. Keep up with your usual routine and offer them affection to help them manage their worries during this time.
Emily currently lives in Orange County, California after spending four years in Illinois and half a year teaching in Florence, Italy. She holds a B.A. in English Literature from Knox College and an M.A. in Counseling from the University of San Diego and has taught English to native speakers and ESL students for over three years. When she’s not working as a School Counselor or writing, she enjoys traveling the world, playing instruments, and blogging about Millennial experiences at Long Live the Twenties.