Talking to Kids about Ukraine

little girl scowling at phone

Kids are hearing stories about the fighting in Ukraine. You can help them be both informed and comforted.

These are trying days. It seems that even as one global emergency simmers down to a manageable roar, another pops up to renew our fear in the unknown. This week it’s the Russian invasion of Ukraine that has educators and guardians navigating tricky conversations with children.

It might be tempting to simply avoid conversations about frightening events, especially if we’re lucky enough to be far removed from those events. We’re not taking shelter in underground subway terminals or saying goodbye to family members who are going off to fight a much larger army. But kids are hearing about the events in Ukraine through other sources—the internet, peers, the car radio—and having a discussion with a trusted adult can go a long way toward understanding and lessening their fear.

Here are a few things to keep in mind as you embark on tough conversations about Ukraine.

Be the one to start the conversation.

Instead of waiting for your kids to come to you with questions and feelings, check in with them to see what they are hearing and how they are feeling. Also, be prepared with a map so they can see where exactly the war is happening. That will help them realize that the danger is far away. Don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know” when they ask you something—that’s a great opportunity to do some research together.

Show your own fear, but not too much.

“Mom, could we really have a nuclear war?” is not an uncommon question at the dinner table these days. And while no one can see into the future, we can tell our kids that a lot of very smart people are working incredibly hard to make sure that doesn’t happen. Even simply talking about the fear of nuclear war is enough to make a child feel less stressed about it—they know they’re not alone. At the same time, be sure your own fears aren’t front and center during these talks. While we’re all scared, it’s better for kids to be in the presence of a calm adult who admits freely to being afraid but who isn’t being controlled by that fear.

Keep it age appropriate, but be sure to answer their specific questions.

Of course, teenagers are going to have different questions and concerns from elementary aged children. In fact, you might even learn something talking to teens about the current conflict—they may be reading up on it or learning about it in school. Preschoolers might just need a “I’m scared too but right now we are together and we have everything we need,” will go a long way to comforting them. Teens might be interested in learning about how they might help the people of Ukraine through donations and fundraising.

Go for a walk.

Or head to the playground, or take a bike ride, or do something else that gets you and your child out in nature. It’s easy to lose perspective when we are connected to our screens all day. It can start to feel like every hour brings a fresh wave of bad news. By going outside and getting some physical exercise, you can take a healthy break from the onslaught and model healthy self care for your kids.


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