How to talk to the kids about what is happening in Ukraine

How do we talk to our children about war and how can we give them the resilience to get through each new crisis they are facing?

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How do you talk to children about what is going on in Ukraine?  It’s a question that has come up a lot this week and there’s no easy answer. Particularly in this age of over-information. Teenagers have access to everything that is going on all the time. Yet it seems wrong in a way to worry about our children when on every news bulletin we see the faces of Ukrainian children in mortal danger.

Daughter three said she was talking to some people at school about what is happening. While they were talking they were constantly scrolling through Tik Tok where they are being fed endless angry diatribes about different aspects of the news. Daughter three was protesting that we should be very worried about the horror that is unfolding in Ukraine and should be looking out for people fleeing from there. Her peers were saying that the whole thing was hypocrisy because what about the Palestinians, the Syrians and Yemen where more people are dying. Why should they care more just because it is white people who are likely to get preferential treatment when it comes to refugee status and when Indian and Nigerian students have been prevented from leaving just because of the colour of their skin?

Daughter three was saying we should care wherever war is happening, but the Ukraine situation is right on our doorstep, that we could find ourselves right in the middle of it and that anyway, shamefully, the Government isn’t exactly pulling out its finger to help Ukrainian refugees either.

She argued that we can surely acknowledge both racism and the need to help people in war situations. All the kids are horrified by what is happening to people in Ukraine. Only son is worried about nuclear war and has been watching the news more than usual. He just wants to help people. Daughter two is trying to drown everything out with Eurovision and its promise of friendship across nations. She plays Ukraine’s winning song endlessly in solidarity.

I’m not sure what the best policy is except to talk through the news with them. You can’t screen it out. They know what is going on. Pretending it isn’t is just ducking any responsibility to allow them to talk through their worries. Even if there is no easy answer to their worries, even if you can’t say there won’t be a nuclear war, what you can say is that in history we have been at such points before and that we have come through them, that empathy matters, that truth matters and that we can only do what we can to help and that more people want peace than want war.

Young people have faced one disaster after another in recent years – they feel that the world is about to end because of climate change, they’ve lived through Covid and now comes the potential for world war. All the fantasies in the films they have been brought up on seem to be coming true, but there are no Avenger-type superhumans waiting in the wings. In our case they have also lived through the horrendous shock of losing their sister – gone in seconds.

It’s vital too to think of what helps us to cope, what makes us resilient, as adults. How have we got through the last few years? By trying to keep together, by multiple hugs, by looking out for each other even when sometimes people don’t seem to want us to look out for them, by distraction, by doing what we can do rather than sitting around and feeling powerless, by helping others, by taking every day as it comes and by breaking everything right down to the basics, the breathing in and out…By being resilient and empathetic ourselves, we show them that they too can be.

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