How to explain war to a child

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Whether you are watching television or are on social media, there are lots of graphic images and news stories about the war that’s taking place in Ukraine at the moment. We understand how hard it must be to explain war without frightening the children within our family, so we’ve put together some top tips on how to approach this with them.

Talking is Key

It’s perfectly natural for children to feel frightened as to what’s happening in the world and question what to expect so, treating the news as off-limits or taboo is the wrong approach for those who are inquisitive.

The best opening is to ask what the child has heard already and what questions they have – the most important thing is to address them calmly, while not discounting fears or reactions that may seem inappropriate.  

Younger children might, for instance, be excited by how cool tanks are; teenagers might be aggressive about what a mess adults are making of the world they live in. Children will be processing how this all relates to them – and they may just as easily be too upset by the thought of war as too blasé about it.

Dr. David Schonfeld, a member of the American Academy of Paediatrics Council on Children and Disasters, notes – older children may tell you that they don’t want to or need to discuss it with you, but you should make sure they know that you are available and revisit the subject as the war evolves

It’s really that simple, talking to your children is a great way to find out how they are feeling and gives them the opportunity to ask questions.

Reassurance

As always, the child’s age drives what approach works. A good guide to talking about any tragic event children are seeing on the news is summarized by parenting expert, Dr. Deborah Gilboa.

For the likes of preschoolers, take extra precautions to limit exposure to the news, and in discussions make sure they know they’re safe. Younger children may believe they are in immediate danger and need to be reassured.

Explore Ways to Help

When the news is bad, children want some sense of control of their environment – and discussing how they can help can give them that control. Kellie Schmitt, the award-winning science writer, has published some good suggestions in How Your Family Can Support the People of Ukraine | ParentMap

Wicked Uncle Toys has been supporting the buy Ukrainian movement, putting together a collection of excellent Ukrainian toys – and donating all proceeds to Ukrainian relief.

Summary

There are several topics that discussions of the war in Ukraine can highlight. Many wars are complicated tragedies and this has certainly been the case for much of the last 50 years. But the invasion of Ukraine, a sovereign nation led by a democratically elected President by a neighboring country, controlled by a dictator, Putin, who has increasingly operated a police state, is easier to explain.

Even if that does not help make it less upsetting for children – or adults – to witness the horrible consequences of this tragedy.

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