How to talk to your child about Russia invading Ukraine
To say it’s a tricky time to be a parent right now is an understatement. You’ve just made it through a global pandemic, then war breaks out in Ukraine.
So the first thing I want to remind you is to go easy on yourself.
You’re doing an amazing job and there is no single right way to go about this.
But hopefully, I can help break down some of those anxieties with a few tips on how to talk to your children about difficult topics, such as war.
1. Think about how you feel first
If you don’t know what you think about life, how can you help a child make sense of it? Prepare for questions by thinking about your thoughts, values, etc. about the topic first.
You could also say:
- I think/believe that…but different people have different views.
- I don’t really know, but some people think…
2. Be your child’s trusted source of information
If your child is old enough to ask a serious question, they deserve an honest, understandable answer.
By giving them the information they are looking for, you can avoid your child looking at other sources, such as gossip on the playground, social media, or the news.
This means you are there to talk them through it and help them understand, in the way only you know how.
It’s okay to admit you don’t know the answer.
You can try:
- What do you think the answer is?
- I’m not sure, shall we try and find out more about this together?
Doing research together is a good way to teach your child how to find reliable information and sources that can be trusted.
3. Make sure you understand the question
Let your child ask their questions and give it some time to answer the question properly.
It’s also really important to make sure you know where the question is coming from and exactly what the question is that your child is asking.
For example, a younger child might just be asking in the same way they ask “why?” or “what’s for dinner?”.
You can use distraction at first to check if it’s a meaningful question, or whether it’s a passing thought.
Older children may understand enough to have real concerns, so it’s worth asking them questions back, so you can understand what the underlying worries are.
Be patient if your child wants to ask more questions, if your answer hasn’t given them the information they were after. It’s best to let them guide the conversation, to avoid making it bigger than it needs to be.
4. How to give an age-appropriate answer
Until they’re around 5/6, children’s understanding of the world is very immediate and they find it difficult to distinguish between reality and fantasy. This means that things on the screen feel very close, so it can help to turn off the news, as they won’t be able to process this.
They will also be thinking in concrete terms, the things they can sense rather than abstract ideas.
For example, they know what an apple is, but may not yet understand the concept of love. Keep this in mind when answering questions.
For instance, explain how far away Russia is using a relatable measurement, such as how long it takes to travel when you go on holiday.
Older children will be learning to think in more complex ways. Feeling helpless can lead to anxiety, so it can be helpful to discuss the difference between the things you can control – such as what you eat, the things you say – and the things you can’t control, like the weather or what other people say.
This can help your child feel more powerful, and you can discuss ways they can help.
For example, they can’t stop a war from happening, but they can help raise money for refugees.
Children aged around 10 and above can understand hypothetical situations, so if they are worried, you could ask what they would say to a friend or younger sibling who had the same concern.
Knowing how you feel about the Russian invasion can help you answer your child’s questions, but it’s also okay to say that you don’t know.
Either way, make it clear that it’s okay for your child to feel big feelings about it – confusion, anger, sadness, fear – and let them know that you sometimes feel that way too.
By understanding why your child is asking the questions that they are, and using age appropriate explanations, you can help reassure your child and give them the information they need.