Talking to Children about the War in Ukraine

We are cognizant that all adults in the Aidan community are experiencing an elevated mix of emotions related to the tragedy unfolding in Ukraine—fear, anger, confusion, and frustration being among the most prominent. While most of our younger students have no awareness of the tragedy, many of our Elementary students have some degree of awareness. We want to assure you that as a school, we are prepared to support your child's emotional well-being (and curiosity) during this challenging time, in an age-appropriate manner. 

We recognize that the current crisis is unlike any event that our parents have previously faced. During the upcoming E.P.I.C. presentation on Tuesday, March 15 at 8:00 PM, we will provide suggestions for discussing the war, reducing anxiety and reinforcing a sense of security, and ensuring that you are in the best place to do both of these.

We also want to provide you with some tips and resources to aid you as parents and caregivers in supporting your child through conversation and action, as well as by fostering empathy for the rapidly growing Ukrainian refugee population. With that in mind, we have created the compilation of recommendations and resources below.

As always, please feel free to reach out to me to discuss how this crisis is affecting your family's emotional well-being. And, we hope you can join us for our upcoming EPIC on March 15 - RSVP here

Sincerely,

Courtenay Labson, School Counselor


Talking to Children about the War in Ukraine (And Some Books)

Remember what Fred Rogers said:

“Anything that’s human is mentionable, and anything that’s mentionable can be manageable.  When we can talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting and less scary.”

Security:

  • Our job is to give age-appropriate, accurate information while reassuring our kids that they are safe and loved.
  • Answer your child’s questions calmly and accurately. 
  • Reassure them that adults all over the world are working hard to resolve this conflict.  
  • Don’t respond to your child’s questions by telling them to calm down, that they are overreacting, or that they shouldn’t be scared. Give your child permission to feel afraid. What they’re feeling is actually natural, so you can validate what they are saying by communicating, "Yeah, you know, this is kind of a scary situation, but I want to see how I can help you to feel safe." 
  • Use a map. Showing your child the vast distance between where we live and where the war is occurring will reassure them that it’s not in their immediate environment. Plus, using a map will help you discuss the facts. Depending on your child’s age, you can talk about the history of each country and an overview of why they are in conflict.

The War:

  • If there is even a small chance that your child will hear about the news from someone/somewhere else, you should proactively discuss it with them. This possibility should be your guide, rather than deciding strictly based on your child's age.
  • Talking about the war with your child before they hear about it from others ensures they don’t get the message, “I shouldn’t talk to my parents about this.” You want your child to know that you are the person to go to when the world is confusing and upsetting.
  • If possible, start the conversation by asking them whether they have heard about the war and what they have heard. This enables parents to determine what their child is ready for, what they already know, and what conceptions they already hold.
  • Before correcting misinformation, ask your child how they are feeling about what they have learned.
  • If your older child comes to you with a piece of information that’s inaccurate, ask them what their source is and work with them to identify credible news sources. Take this opportunity to teach them trustworthy ways of gathering information.
  • If age-appropriate, explain that this war is a “war of choice,” because Russia’s leader wants “more.” This action is wrong, as is any form of oppression.
  • Make sure your child does not confuse the actions of a tyrant with the people of an entire country of Russians. Share with them about protests happening within Russia and how brave and inspiring they are.
  • Talk about refugees, and tell your child that people all over the world are working very hard to help Ukrainian refugees.
  • Sanctions: explain sanctions to them in simple terms.
  • You don’t have to have all of the answers. It’s fine to say that you don’t know but will look for an answer and let them know what you find.
  • When something is scary, like this conflict, anxiety comes from having a lack of perceived control. The way to combat this is with information.
  • Share your own feelings and emotions about Ukraine in an appropriate way without sensationalizing. Consider saying something like:
    • "I'm feeling very upset right now."
    • "I'm worried for the people impacted by this conflict."
    • "I'm scared too."
  • Try to always leave the conversation door open by asking open-ended questions, such as:
    • "How do you feel about that?"
    • "What does that make you think about?"
    • "Do you have questions about what is happening or what has happened?"
  • If your child doesn’t seem interested in what’s happening and ready to discuss what they're feeling, don’t push it. Simply acknowledge what's going on and invite future conversation when they are interested. Make sure they know that the door is always open. 
  • Remind your child that they should not feel guilty about playing, seeing their friends, and doing things that make them happy. In times when the world feels uncertain, kids can learn about the value of taking breaks and enjoying life from the adults around them.

News Media:

  • Don’t bombard children with news and images by constantly having coverage on, as tempting as that is. Children are like sponges. They may be paying close attention to the images of bombs, missiles, and violence.
  • Try not to let your children experience the news without you (TV or audio). You want to be present so that they can ask you questions.

They Can Be a Helper:

Be On the Lookout for Anxiety:

  • Sometimes your child’s questions will clue you in on their anxiety levels. However, be on the lookout for more subtle and indirect signs that they’re nervous (e.g., sleeplessness, change in appetite). Remember that anxiety can be reduced by validating their feelings, sharing facts, reassuring them about their safety, and providing opportunities to help those in need.

Books On the Refugee Experience to Consider Offering to Your Child:

  • What Is a Refugee? (Ages 3-7) by Elise Gravel. A simple, accessible introduction to what it means to be a refugee.
  • Lubna and Pebble (Ages 4-8) written by Wendy Meddour and illustrated by Daniel Egnéus. A young girl holds on to her special pebble at a refugee camp—only to give it to a child who needs it even more.
  • Lost and Found Cat: The True Story of Kunkush's Incredible Journey (Ages 4-8) written by Doug Kuntz and Amy Shrodes; illustrated by Sue Cornelison. The true story of how aid workers in Greece helped an Iraqi refugee family reunite with their beloved pet.
  • Stepping Stones (Ages 5-8) by Margriet Ruurs. Stepping Stones has illustrations inspired by the artwork of Syrian artist Nizar Ali Badr, which the author uses to tell the story of a family fleeing Syria. It’s a powerful use of art to tell the story of the Syrian civil war and how it affected families.
  • The Treasure Box (Ages 5-8) written by Margaret Wild and illustrated by Freya Blackwood. This moving picture book centers on Peter who, along with his father, flees his home as war rages around them.
  • Saving Hanno (Ages 8-12) written by Miriam Halahmy. Set during the onset of World War II, this novel centers around nine-year-old Rudi and his dachshund Hanno. When fleeing Nazi Germany for London, Rudi’s family manages to smuggle the dog in—but Hanno faces a new threat there.
  • Brother’s Keeper (Ages 8-12), written by Julie Lee. A journey of wartime survival parallels the strength Sora needs to fight for her own dreams.
  • Refugee (Ages 9-12), written by Alan Gratz. Tells the powerful story of three different children seeking refuge–one from 1930’s Nazi Germany, one from Cuba in 1994, and one from Syria in 2015.  Although Josef, Isabel, and Mahmoud are separated by continents and decades, shocking connections tie their stories together in the end.

Resources for Parents:

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