Talking to children about the conflict in Ukraine

"Children do not always talk about what is worrying them, but they may be trying to make sense of this information by themselves and, in the absence of factual information, imagining situations to be far worse than they are. Every child is different and while some might be scared, others may not be worried at all."
(Barnardo's Children's Charity)

Your child may have become aware of the invasion of Ukraine by hearing news stories or talking to friends. Such things can cause powerful emotions.

Your child may be developing their own thoughts and feelings about what they have seen and heard. These emotions may be even stronger if you have relatives in Ukraine, or neighbouring countries that are close to this or any other conflict.

While there is no right or wrong way to carry out such conversations, there are some hints and tips below to help you. You can also work with your child’s school to get some support.

What you might notice

You may notice that your child:

  • asks more questions than usual about something they have seen or heard
  • talks about things connected to the conflict, even though you may have thought they were unaware of the situation
  • demonstrates a lack of understanding of what is happening
  • worries about family members or friends either close to the conflict or close to home
  • feels in some way responsible for events
  • has unexplained headaches or tummy aches
  • shows some changes in behaviour or emotions, such as being more withdrawn, acting out, or being more judgemental than usual. It may not be clear to you why this is happening
  • is not sleeping properly, or is too focused on conflict, images and worries. Should this be the case, then it may be time to ask your school or GP about whether your child needs additional support.

These services are there to help:

There are more services available to support families on our Wellbeing page

In all situations it is important not to ignore or avoid what is happening.

If you have a younger child, then talk to your child’s teacher to learn more about the approaches they are taking in school so that you can work together in developing a consistent approach.

Hints and tips

Here are some simple tips which may help you to have these difficult conversations.

Listen when your child wants to talk

  • This may not always be at the most convenient time, but timing may be everything.
  • Know that your child may share with you a completely different version of events based on the information they have seen or heard.
  • Listening gives you a way to address any incorrect information or use of language.
  • Give your child the opportunity to ask you questions.
  • It's alright to acknowledge that you may not know all the answers.
  • It’s best not to force children to talk about things; wait until they’re ready.
  • Know that your child may prefer to draw, write, or play with toys to express how they feel, rather than to talk.

Have an age-appropriate conversation

  • Explain key vocabulary in age-appropriate terms if your child asks about the words, for example, conflict, war, invasion, refugee.
  • Give answers to questions but not too much detail, for example your child may be satisfied by knowing that countries sometimes fight.
  • Be prepared to answer the same question numerous times – it can take time to learn and feel secure.
  • Ensure any information you give is factual rather than judgemental, this helps particularly with older children where they may be more sensitive to the dangers of conflict.
  • Don’t make unrealistic promises; you can’t promise there will never be another conflict or war.
  • Keep calm and try not to share your own feelings during any conversations. This will be hard if you are directly involved with family or friends close to the conflict. Your child is likely to pick up and dwell on the emotions coming from you. It may even make them feel that your emotion is their fault.
  • Remember that children are always listening, whether this is to the television, radio or adults talking together and they tend to learn from what they see and hear. Be careful how much exposure they have to the news or media-based input, some of it can be challenging for adults to watch.

Accept and validate their emotions

  • You can help your child to engage in a safe and open conversation by using phrases such as ‘It is alright to feel…’, ‘It is understandable that…’.
  • Give them permission to feel the way they do, and you will bring your child a sense of relief.

Support and Reassure

  • Help your child to understand that adults and governments across the world are trying to resolve the problem.
  • It is important that your child knows they can still see their friends, enjoy their play, or be happy.

Actions can speak louder than words

  • Your child may come up with ways in which they might contribute to helping people who are going through a specific conflict, such as those by the Polish-Jersey Help for Ukraine campaign on Facebook (access for age 14+ years).
  • School Councils are very receptive to campaigns and fundraising ideas.
  • When talking to your child about any conflicts, such as that in Ukraine, it is important to reinforce positive values such as thoughtfulness, kindness, generosity, and respect. An example of this, is to talk about the positive relationships within your own family and the importance of taking care of each other. This brings a sense of safety.

Dealing with Social-Media

  • Some social-media channels are now being used as potential methods for distributing propaganda or inappropriate content. It is important that as parents, you know what your child is following or viewing online. This can be difficult, particularly with older children.
  • Emphasise the importance of getting accurate, age-appropriate information.
  • Talk to your child about sharing anything that causes them concern or makes them worry.
  • Help your child to use recognised trusted news sources and be wary of information that may not be true. BBC Newsround has some guidance to support.

Facts to help you discuss the crisis in Ukraine

The broader picture

Several of the world’s poorest countries are suffering, or have recently suffered, from large scale violent conflict.

The two World Wars, including Jersey’s experiences during the Occupation, and now the Russia-Ukraine conflict, are only part of the story. It is important to help your child to realise that understanding world history would be impossible without understanding the range of conflicts that have shaped it.

A progressive understanding of conflict across the primary phase is something that your child’s school will have considered in their PSHE and History planning.

The learning experiences in school will help your child to see the Russia-Ukraine crisis through a much broader lens so they understand the types of conflict that exist, the many reasons for conflict, the difference between negative and positive conflict, and how to responsibly manage conflict in their own lives.

Children and their families across Europe and the rest of the world are experiencing the effects of the escalating crisis in Ukraine and this is being felt very strongly within our own Jersey community.

We hope the links below will help you to explore the history, cause, and effects of the conflict with your child should you wish to do so.

Where is Ukraine and what is the history of this conflict?
What’s the potential impact of the current crisis in Ukraine?
How are children being impacted by the Ukraine crisis?
Why are people are talking about Russia and Ukraine?
What is life like in Russia right now?
Russia facts - National Geographic Kids
Advice if you're upset by the news
FACT sheet Russian invasion of Ukraine (a PDF)
Russia launches attack on Ukraine
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and how to avoid misinformation

Learning resources

These resources contribute towards the different Programmes of Study across the Jersey Curriculum.

Britannica Kids – a profile of Ukraine Age 7+ years Brief facts and information about the geography, population, environment, economy and history.
Ukraine- information everyone must know Age 7+ years A video containing some key facts about Ukraine and its culture. (YouTube, parental permission required)
Brainscape Academy-13 wars in history that have shaped the world Age 11+ years A short history of conflict across time. Age 7+ years The UN Convention for the Rights of the Child
WHSmith Age 7+ years A selection of recommended books to help children understand war issues.
Muddy Footprints Age 4+ years 10 books to help teach younger children about personal conflict and resolution