The Russian invasion in Ukraine has dominated the international news cycle since it began, including endless content uploaded to social media. Many kids are viewing this content, whether intentionally or not. Understandably, parents and caregivers may be wondering how to talk to their child about the conflict in an appropriate way.
SavvyMom reached out to Laura Linn Knight, parenting educator and author of the upcoming book Break Free from Reactive Parenting to get her professional insight into how to talk to your kids about the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
“Most kids by now have heard about the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and many of them are feeling nervous and confused,” she says. “Children may be hearing things from friends at school, watching the news play in the background at home, or seeing images pop up on their social media feeds.”
Knight says that when her seven-year-old daughter first heard about what was going on, she asked where their family would go if there was a war at home. “It immediately brought up fear of her safety and our families safety.” Her son, who is older, had question after question. Why were they fighting? Was this a real war? Were people being killed? Who would win? Would people have to fight even if they didn’t want to?
Knight says both of these responses are very valid and normal. She says when talking to kids about the conflict, there are some tools that can help facilitate the conversation.
Tools for Talking to Kids About Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine
Tool #1: Be Curious
Knight says parents can waiver between over sharing and under sharing with their child. “Before you begin to share with your child about what is going on, find out what they are hearing outside of your home.” She suggests asking questions such as: Have you heard anything at school about Russia and Ukraine? If you have heard anything, what was it? How did that make you feel? Do you have any questions about what is going on?
Knight says asking questions gives parents an understanding of what information their child knows, their feelings surrounding what is happening, and creates a good platform from which to dive into offering facts and support.
Tool #2: Share Facts
In times of fear, Knight says that knowing the facts can help the brain from running away with a story of worry.
“My daughter, for instance, was the perfect example of a child who needed to know some facts about what was going on so that she didn’t create a story in her mind.”
She says that depending on your child’s developmental stage, you can share facts about what is going on appropriate to their age. And, if you aren’t sure yourself what the facts are, this will be a good opportunity to find some established, reputable, and non-biased resources where you can do some research with your child (or alone and relay the information back). “If your child has a question and you aren’t sure what the answer is or how to best answer it, let your child know that you appreciate their question and that you need to do some more research before circling back to answer,” says Knight.
She explains that it’s also a good opportunity to look at the use of social media as a news platform. Find out what accounts your child follows, and explain the difference between people giving their opinions and people sharing facts. Talk about the best way to get news. “These are important screen time topics that I share about in my upcoming book, and they feel even more relevant and needed now.”
Tool #3: Offer Support
As the invasion continues and escalates, your child will most likely be hearing and seeing more. “Often, it is hard for a child to articulate their feelings when it comes to something as big as this,” says Knight. “It is hard to make sense of it all as an adult, so imagine how a child must feel with their main emotional processing point of the brain still developing.”
Knight points out that children may need more support than just one or two conversations. “Let your child know that you are available if any questions come up or if they are just feeling like they need some extra cuddle or hang time.” Parents can also take the lead by offering extra hugs, being available when questions arise, and talking to their children about what they can do as a family to help.
Tool #4: Donate When Possible
“In times of need and crisis, children feel good when they can help,” says Knight. “Instead of just watching things unfold, brainstorm ways that your family can help support the people caught in the chaos of war.”
Her family has a weekly allowance tradition of dividing allowance into three jars: spend, save and share. She says her children are looking forward to giving their share money to an organization that is offering help. “If your child doesn’t already have a way to donate, perhaps a fundraiser can be organized at their school,” says Knight. “Be creative as your child looks for ways that they can contribute.”
“Not only will you be helping people and children of this war, but your child will be feeling less powerless, along with learning about the beauty of giving.”