Over the past two years, children have struggled to understand the COVID-19 virus, shutdowns, school closures, why they couldn’t see friends and families or do sports and everyday activities they love. Many parents became exhausted by trying to help their children feel normal while explaining the pandemic to their children. Now that the pandemic has begun to slow down, we are met with another crisis—the war in Ukraine. For many of us, this humanitarian crisis is in another continent. However, social media, the news, and the internet can make it feel very close to home. Which has likely caused you to question how to explain the war in Ukraine to your child?
What’s the best way to explain the war in Ukraine to your child?
Even though we’d all like to assume our kids are oblivious to what is happening, they aren’t. Many children are well aware of the conflict in Ukraine, and it is causing a significant amount of anxiety for many children. Many children have big feelings and questions about what is happening. So, how can you explain the war in Ukraine to your child without causing more anxiety or dismissing it like it’s nothing?
Don’t dismiss their feelings.
Many parents today watched the events of September 11 on the T.V. Trauma has stuck with us. As a way of avoiding the anxiety that comes with it, we often dismiss our feelings about such things and tell ourselves things like, “this isn’t happening here, so it’s fine.” While we may be quick to dismiss our feelings, we need to be careful not to do the same to our children. You should give your child the time and space to express their feelings to you. You must acknowledge their feelings and let them know that it’s ok to feel that way.
It’s normal to feel angry, worried, sad, and frustrated. It’s beneficial to allow your child the time and space to explain how they’re feeling. And also, your child needs to know that you have feelings about what is happening too. Please know that it’s healthy to feel sad, frustrated and mad about the events. When you acknowledge your feelings, your child will have an easier time accepting theirs. If your child struggles to explain how they are feeling, suggest writing or creating art.
Let them ask tough questions.
Your child has big feelings, thoughts and questions. They are individuals growing up in a challenging time. Your child needs to know that their concerns, ideas and questions are taken seriously. When your child brings a problem or question to you, it’s important to approach their questions sensitively and honestly. We all assume that we need to sugarcoat everything for our kids, avoiding topics and discussions about events such as these.
Many parents don’t realize that it is essential to allow their children to ask questions, have these sensitive conversations, and answer their questions honestly and to the best of their knowledge. If you’re struggling to understand something or do not have the answers, you should explain to your child that this is a highly complex situation that not everyone understands. But many are working tirelessly to find solutions and end this war.
Utilize a map or globe when you explain the war in Ukraine to your child.
When explaining the war in Ukraine, take time to help your child understand the geography of the situation. Show your child where you are on the map, then Ukraine and Russia. Take the time to explain and emphasize the countries worldwide that are helping. While also showing them the countries that are not supporting Russia and are actively working to help end this crisis.
Help your child fact-check media.
This is especially important for older children who may have access to social media. It can be tough to figure out what is real and not regarding social media. Anyone could post something, and others can accept it as fact. Remind your child to check sources, and rely on safe domains and trusted people on social media.
Here’s a helpful resource to help your child fact-check.
Teach your children to look for helpers.
In the famous words of Mr. Rogers, “When I was a boy, and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” While the war in Ukraine is filled with terrible things, we can help our children focus on helpers. Like those at the borders of Ukraine that are assisting refugees by providing them with food, shelter and clothes. There are always people willing to help.
For older children, help them learn the facts.
Some very reliable resources are available to help our older learners understand what is happening in the world right now. You can help your children learn about what is happening and why, along with reliable updated information on the current situation.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
If your child is struggling to understand, don’t be afraid to ask for help from professionals who are trained to listen, understand and help your child process their thoughts and feelings in a better way. Additionally, you can utilize the Thoughts and Feelings: Learning how to Manage How I Think and Feel Special Interest Unit to help your child navigate the big feelings that they are feeling. Just remember that we are all navigating this crisis together; it’s difficult to explain something that we may not fully understand, so remember to be patient with yourself.
Together we can help children in Ukraine.
For March, we donate a portion of all sales to Save the Children Ukraine Crisis Fund.