Things are really heavy right now. As adults, it seems hard and emotional to process the current world events and watch the war on Ukraine. No matter how much we try to control things, our children are also aware to some degree of what is going on. They are curious and likely have many questions but may not understand how to process it. These tough conversations are important to have with our kids. We asked Indianapolis Mom Contributor Jen O’Rourke, a licensed Psychotherapist for infants, young children, and families, for her advice on what to do when talking to your kids about Ukraine and the world events that are unfolding.
The war in Ukraine is all over the news, and our kids have questions. What is the first thing we should do to address their feelings and fears?
The first thing I’d say is don’t panic. Kids take their cues from the adults around them, so they will pick up on if you are calm and assured. The most important message you want to get across is that they are safe and we are not involved in the war. Although that could change, I wouldn’t lead with it that or even bring that up unless they ask directly. If they ask about that, tell them that you will let them know if we ever find out new information or if there is a safety concern. Reassure them that it is normal to be a little worried or scared but that we are completely safe where we are at the moment.
Be aware if your child starts to display more signs of anxiety like asking questions constantly, frequent worries, not wanting to be left alone, complaining of stomach aches, or isolating. Don’t be afraid to talk to a therapist or your pediatrician if you have prolonged concerns about anxiety.
When talking to your kids about Ukraine, what is the appropriate way to address it at different ages?
Preschool Age – is it appropriate to address it at this age?
Yes! However, if they aren’t aware of what is going on, you need to choose how important it is for them to know about world issues with other countries. If you have a child that suffers from anxiety, phobias, or has a hard time with change, I probably would not tell them unless they ask about it directly.
If you want to involve your child in the discussion, I think it is perfectly appropriate to tell your child that two countries are having a very big argument. If they already know about it due to having older siblings or hearing adults talk about it, I would answer questions as they come. Keep it short, sweet, and basic. Answer honestly, and if you don’t know, don’t be afraid to tell them you don’t know.
I might ask what they already know to open the discussion at this age. Some may have heard things from friends, and some will know nothing at all. I think this is a great age to show them a map and point out where Ukraine and Russia are compared to the United States. You can talk about what makes a good president or a leader of the country. Explain things about Putin’s choices in general and this recent choice to take over another country and not consider the feelings of the Ukrainian people. Give them an opportunity to share how they feel about this choice. Ask them if they know what war is, and then confirm or add to their answer. You can let them know that most people try to solve problems with words, but some leaders or presidents can’t or won’t do that, so they choose war.
A final distinction that is important to make is that this is one person making bad decisions and that the Russians are not bad people. Many Russians don’t want to do this, but they don’t have a choice.
I might also talk to them about Refugees and who they are. Talk to your child about what other people are doing to help. Things like protesting, donating money, or even that other countries are trying to tell Putin to stop. Ask your child if they can think of any ways they might be able to help Ukrainian refugees. If they don’t know, you can ask around or look up ways to donate or help.
As with the younger ages, I’d approach them and ask them what they know while offering to ask any questions. Ask them specifically what they’ve seen on social media or have heard their friends say.
The biggest concern with this age is hearing misinformation or seeing social media posts that they don’t fully understand.
For instance, TikTok trends show people preparing for World War III in a funny way, but your tween or teen may not fully understand the humor behind it. Keep these tough conversations open, honest, and let them know they can always come to you for more information. If you don’t know the answer to their questions, let them know you can research it on a reputable media outlet.
What should we NOT be doing when having these tough conversations?
I don’t think it’s helpful to have the news on constantly within the home. You may not fully control the images that come across the screen or how stories are
reported. It’s not really even healthy for adults! Parents should pre-screen the news and
media before showing it to their children.
Resources/Books/Websites you recommend for families:
Here are a few books about Refugees that are appropriate for Preschool through
- “What is a Refugee?” by Elise Gravel
- “Lubna and Pebble” by Wendy Meddour
- “Lost and Found Cat: the true story of Kunkush’s Incredible Journey” by Doug Kuntz