Have you talked to your kids about the war in Ukraine?

A post from Rebecca Megson Smith – AKA Ridley Writes.

Honestly, it wasn’t even something that crossed my mind until a friend asked me this question at the weekend.

My kids are three and five years old. The News is something (jokingly) threatened as a form of ‘punishment TV’ in our house, which elicits squeals of dismay and frankly outright rebellion!

It’s not that I’m opposed to discussing global issues with my kids. We chatted to our five year-old about coronavirus when that first kicked off two years ago. In simple, measured words, we explained what coronavirus was – roughly summarised as an airborne disease that had come into human circulation via contact with bats.

‘Naughty Bats’

We parcelled out the information, responding to her questions and the obvious changes to our lives. Our daughter took them in with quiet, serious eyes, saying little but absorbing everything. Her version back to us was this: ‘Some naughty bats have flown up really high in the sky and brought coronavirus back down with them, and we all had to do all sorts of things until the naughty bats take it back up into the sky’.

It wasn’t accurate but her control of the narrative and her understanding of the ‘naughty bats’ as a reason for all the weird things happening seemed to give her both the comfort and the answers she needed at a clearly bizarre time in her life. Plus she was three. We weren’t about to argue with her about the specifics of the situation.

Beach picture to lighten the post

Ukraine Crisis

Coronavirus was a more obviously necessary subject for us to talk to the kids about. The invasion of Ukraine by Russia, less so. My partner has travelled to Ukraine quite recently for work and knows people there. But beyond it being another one of the places ‘daddy goes away to work’, they have limited notions of where it is, and an even more limited understanding of war.

But do I want to be the one to start talking about the grim realities of the world to my children? Talking to other parents I discovered most with children as young as mine said they hadn’t discussed it with their kids. Even parents with slightly older primary school age children weren’t talking about it either, though they wondered if this was a good time to start sharing the realities of war, vs the ‘historical battle re-enactments’ their children like to play.

If you Google ‘How to talk to kids about the war in Ukraine’ you’ll get a spill of articles from here and the US, packed with thoughts and ideas on why, when and how to speak to your children about the crisis. Complete with interviews from child psychologists, there’s a lot of good advice in them.

‘This isn’t a topic to be discussed at home’

Reading through them, my big take away is that if kids hear about the subject – or indeed any subject – at school and it isn’t or hasn’t been talked about with them at home, they are unlikely to come back to us as parents for more information. The logic follows that apparently when we don’t talk about a subject with our children, we inadvertently send out the message, ‘This isn’t a topic to be discussed at home.’

That feels like a bit of a wake-up call to me. I realise I’ve unconsciously been subscribing to a form of parenting that works on the basis of waiting until my kids bring something up with me before I talk to them about it. One of the parents I spoke to said she had raised it with her (slightly older) children because she had been surprised they hadn’t mentioned it to her. They said they knew about it and were scared. Another child was worried because she had heard that Russia was about to invade the UK. Unsurprisingly, misinformation abounds.

Child Psychologist advice

Much of the advice from the child psychologists community is common sense. It suggests starting with open questions, finding out what your child knows and focusing on how they are feeling about what they’ve heard. Then it’s about translating the situation into language that means something to them – playground disputes being the obvious one suggested.

The final point is key: Every child is different. Messages and the delivery of them need to be tailored accordingly. And of course, as for so much in life, they take their lead from us – so a good place for all of us to start is perhaps to examine how we feel and how our feelings are influencing our children too.

Will I speak to my children about the war? Definitely my five year-old. Starting with finding out what she knows and working out from there. I suspect she will concoct a version of events to rival the naughty bats. And whilst that will be a massively reductive version of the reality facing Ukrainians – and indeed Russian soldiers – at least we will have a vocabulary between us to begin tackling this challenging and upsetting subject.

Resources and articles

BBC Newsroundhttps://www.bbc.co.uk/newsround#more-stories-2

‘How to talk to children about Russia invading Ukraine in an honest but reassuring way’ iNews

‘How to talk to children about what’s happening in Ukraine and World War Three anxiety’ Metro

Rebecca Megson-Smith is a writer, writing coach and feminist, fuelled by books, tea and time by the sea. You can find her on her website, Instagram @ridleywrites and lurking on Twitter @ridleywrites

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