Talking to Children About War

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It is inevitable that children are exposed to conversations and images of the war in Ukraine. Experts agree that it is of vital importance that we talk to our children about what is going on in an open and honest way. However, the extent to which we share information depends on the child's age, level of maturity and their own life experiences. In this post, we share some resources to help you determine how you might talk to your child or children about the war.

Whilst we may wish to protect our children from the distressing nature of the war in Ukraine, experts advise that we must assume that our children, of all ages, are exposed to news and images and so it is important to talk to them, to help them contextualise what is going on. Get the ball rolling by asking them what they know, what they have heard, and what they think and don’t be afraid to acknowledge their feelings, which very likely will echo our own.

The charity Young Minds, has a valuable overview of talking to young people about the conflict in Ukraine, setting out how to talk to younger children as well as adolescents.

Talking to our children not only helps them express their feelings (and research shows that talking about stressful events decreases distress), but also ensures that misinformation is avoided. This is especially relevant for adolescents who may well be inundated with clips on their social media. It is important that we continue our conversation with our teens about finding information from reputable sources and to approach information on social media with a critical mind. This post in The Conversation shares useful information, breaking it down per age group, like the Young Minds post. I also like Tamsin Grimmer’s reminder in her guide for talking to young children about the war, to be mindful of our language. We may have Russian children in our setting, or children with families in Russia. As Tamsin says: “There is enough hate in the world already, our role is to love, be com- passionate to everyone, and help our children feel safe and secure with us.”

In this article in The Guardian, Philippa Perry, a psychotherapist, reminds us that “For a greater proportion of their lives than ours, they have lived with the pandemic and have been isolated for long periods of time from their peers. On the whole, this has not helped their mental health. So it is bad timing that they are now surrounded by war reporting.” She offers some sensible ways that we can support our children of any age in a conversation about the war.

I particularly like the suggestion in this post on the charity Barnardo‘s website, to do something positive. Invite children to engage in activities where they can feel helpful in an age appropriate way. Tamsin Greer suggests that you could “fund-raise for charities working in countries involved in conflicts, or write letters to your local councillors. Perhaps they can create an image about peace which can be displayed in your setting or shared with any local organisations with links in Eastern Europe or Russia.” Or perhaps the children might think of another way that they can show solidarity and support. At a time when they feel powerless, help them feel powerful.