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Speaking with Children about the War in Ukraine

Guidance and Resources for Parents, Carers and Teachers

Over the past week we have all seen headlines and news articles about the conflict in Ukraine, leaving many of us – including children – anxious about what’s happening, how it’s affecting so many people and what this could mean for the future. Drawing on a variety of articles and resources, in this post we share some advice for helping your child navigate the news they’ve been seeing and how they feel about it. In short, clarity, reassurance and compassion (both for how your child is feeling and for the Ukrainians affected by conflict) are key.

  1. Let the Child Lead the Conversation

Children will respond differently to this news – some may be particularly anxious, some may be simply curious and others may not be aware. These reactions are also likely to vary by age and so the way in which we speak with children should be shaped by what’s appropriate for their age. For this reason, let the child lead the conversation and try not to start the conversation when emotional yourself or before they are ready – this might feed their own anxieties.

  1. Listen and educate

Work from what your child already knows, making sure the information they have heard is correct and has come from a reliable source. This is particularly important given the proliferation of misinformation on apps like Tiktok and Instagram where many children and young people access news. If they are keen to learn more, then help direct them to reliable child-friendly sources of information. As you might expect though, it is not helpful to show them graphic images, share distressing stories and give overly complex explanations which might exacerbate their concerns.

  1. Validate feelings

Be clear that the child’s response and feelings are valid and a natural reaction to the things they’ve heard. Be careful not to dismiss their concern and allow them to talk about it as much, or as little, as they wish.

  1. Reassure

It is often helpful to explain that many situations like this have happened before and have been resolved. To help give context for older children, we can also explain that unfortunately other conflicts will happen in their lifetime and are already happening in other parts of the world. Ultimately, when talking with children, parents, carers, teachers and other responsible adults should make it clear that it is not the child’s responsibility to resolve this conflict and that there are many people working to help the people affected and bring an end to the war.

  1. Give a practical outlet

Having said that, helping children get involved in a practical way with supporting people affected by the conflict can help them feel like they have some agency and thereby help reduce their anxiety. They could contribute to fundraisers or donation drives for people fleeing the conflict, send letters to local decision-makers asking them to do all they can to bring an end to the conflict and help people seeking safety find sanctuary in the UK, create drawings calling for peace or plant a sunflower garden (the sunflower is the national flower of Ukraine) showing solidarity with Ukrainians.

 

Other Resources

This advice has been shaped with help from the following articles and resources which we would encourage you to have a look through the better equip yourself for these conversations with the children in your care:

Newsround –  A range of resources and videos to help children better understand what’s happening in Ukraine

BBC Ros Atkins – A Three Minute Video Explainer (For Secondary-Age Students)

The Metro – How to talk to children about what’s happening in Ukraine and World War Three anxiety

The Choices Programme – The Ukraine Crisis (Lesson plan and resources aimed at older secondary age students).

Save the Children – How to Talk with Children about Ukraine

New York Times – How to Talk to Kids about Ukraine

The Guardian – ‘A delicate balance’: experts’ tips on dealing with Ukraine anxiety in children