How to Talk to Kids and Teens About the Crisis in Ukraine

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As the adults of the world watch Russia invade Ukraine, unleashing what many fear will be the biggest war in Europe since 1945 and potentially affecting global fuel, food, and metals prices (among the obvious other impacts of war), our kids may be absorbing not just our words, but also our tension. Whether they’re teenagers reading the news themselves or little kids catching snippets of scary words like “bombing” and “war,” chances are that most of our kids know something scary is happening.

As hypnotherapist, psychotherapist, and mentor Tania Taylor told Metro.co.uk, kids are like sponges that absorb everything around them: “Whether on the news, someone talking to the shop checkout lady, parents chatting in the playground, or the latest TikTok video, much of what they are hearing, especially once at school, is out of your control. And sometimes, external factors (for example, Kevin in the playground telling everyone that World War Three is starting and we’re all going to die) can provoke more of a fear response.”

So whether or not we feel they’re old enough to understand what’s happening in Ukraine, they may come to us with questions. If they do (or if they’re old enough to proactively have a conversation with them), here are some things to keep in mind.

First, take stock of your own emotions

Especially if your kids are little (say, ages 7-8 or younger), you may be surprised when you pick them up from school, and they spontaneously ask you what “war” means and if people are going to die. Every parent gets caught off-guard with hard-hitting questions long before we’re ready for them, but when we are, we can catch our breath before offering any kind of detailed response by bouncing the question back to them.

“Well, can you tell me what you know about ‘war’?” would be a good place to start in this example. It’s important to get some context for their question so you know what they’ve heard and how much information they may need or be able to understand. (There’s always a chance they’re asking about something totally unrelated, like a video game, so be clear they’re really asking about Russia and Ukraine.)

If you find that you need to collect your thoughts before you answer, you can acknowledge their question and promise to answer it soon. Something like, “That’s a very good question, and I’m so glad you asked me. I want to make sure I give you a good answer, so let me think about it a bit, and we can talk about it more during dinner tonight. Does that sound OK?”

How to talk to little kids about Russia and Ukraine

When you do sit down to talk, remember that young kids are skilled at absorbing just as much information as they’re able to handle. So give them the barebones basics: There are some soldiers who are going into another country where they’re not supposed to be (this is called “invading”), and a lot of people around the world are upset about it. This is all happening very far away, and we are safe here.

Then, let them lead. That may be all they need or want, or they may ask follow-up questions, like what the country is called or how far away it is or why they’re invading. Build off each question with simple, clear explanations. Always end the conversation by asking if they have any more questions so you can be sure they don’t have any lingering concerns or anxieties they may not yet have voiced.

How to talk to tweens about Russia and Ukraine

Older kids around ages 9-12 are going to be more in tune with adult conversations—their friends and classmates may be talking about what’s happening, and they may be getting information on their own through social media. Like with younger kids, it’s good practice to start with what they already know and build from there—particularly if “what they know” is likely to have come from an unreliable source like TikTok. (This is also a good time to build on previous conversations you’ve likely already had about misinformation and the importance of seeking out reputable sources.)

As you address the basics, it may be helpful for them to look at a map to compare where Russia and Ukraine are located to where they live to further illustrate how far from home this is happening, and that they are safe. Answer any other questions they have, and then keep an open dialogue going with your tweens in the weeks and months ahead. Check in from time to time to see if any additional questions have come up, and help them seek out age-appropriate and up-to-date information on the conflict, if they want it (their teacher may have suggestions for that).

How to talk to teenagers about Russia and Ukraine

Teenagers almost certainly know something about what’s happening in Ukraine by now. Jessica Biren Caverly, a licensed psychologist and owner of Western Connecticut Behavioral Health, told Yahoo! that being proactive in conversations with teenagers who may be getting most of their information from social media is especially important: “The negative impact of hearing information from an unreliable and biased source is that children then form opinions and ideals based on misinformation,” Biren Caverly said. “A person may learn one fact and form a belief, but to change that belief, you may need more than 100 new facts to make that significant change.”

Teenagers are also on the cusp of being able to vote themselves, she points out, so parents should help them seek out accurate information from reputable sources so they can being to learn about complex political issues. Then, encourage them to ask more questions and research any answers together if you don’t know them already—going in search of accurate answers together when you’re unsure is a good practice to model for them at this age.

In the end, when it comes to having these conversation with kids of any ages, “children count on adults to help them make sense of world events and feel safe when the events are frightening,” Andrea Barbalich, editor-in-chief of The Week Junior US, told New Jersey Family.

So first and foremost, remember to be calm and be honest.

 

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