Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


Five Ways to Discuss the Conflict in Ukraine with Kids

Russia and Ukraine is on the mind. Here are suggestions on how to guide kids.

Key points

  • The conflict between Russia and Ukraine is on the news and on the mind. Children have more questions than answers.
  • As adults, it is our responsibility to educate and prepare our children for the world they will inherit.
  • The most important thing for children is to feel secure. Helping them feel safe and heard is the best thing you can do.
Source: Canva
It is normal for children to feel anxious. Allowing them to be heard gives them agency.
Source: Canva

The conflict between Russia and Ukraine is on the news and on the mind. If you don’t explain it to your kids, then they will explain it to themselves, which can lead to misunderstandings.

As adults, it is our responsibility to educate and prepare our children for the world they will inherit. This includes difficult conversations about international diplomacy. At all ages, honesty is paramount.

Here are my top five suggestions for tackling this difficult subject with the children in your life:

  1. Educate yourself, the adult, first to ensure you have the correct information to deliver to inquiring minds. There are so many more resources at our disposal with the internet. We have more information at our fingertips than any other generation in human history which is both good and bad. Avoid partisan news, political pundits, and assigning blame. This situation is upsetting enough without political divisiveness and it is imperative we model kindness, empathy, and media literacy for our youth. Educate yourself on the historic relationship between Russia and the US if you aren’t already familiar. The Center for Strategic International Studies is an unbiased resource packed with information. You also want to make sure you understand the background of this specific conflict. There are a plethora of resources including this one from Reuters that uses maps and graphics to illustrate the situation. If you are looking for perspectives, visit allsides. Each headline is placed on the political spectrum so you can read how the perspective is being reported by the left, right, and center. Finally, keep your eyes peeled for webinars and live broadcasts from economists and other experts who are on the ground and reporting from the scene.
  2. Be mindful that we are cultivating a future generation that must understand international diplomacy. Inherent in our globalization is an international dependency from which we cannot turn back. Therefore, we have to understand the macro story. Our local and daily actions and functions from what we eat to the media we consume are dependent on our larger global politics and economics. For example, quite literally, without mining for resources in other countries, we would not have gasoline or the very device upon which you are reading this. Our nation could not function without investments from other nations. Of course, without global cooperation, our climate crisis will only continue. What’s most important to understand here is that this specific geopolitical crisis has far wider implications. Further, outside of the conflict itself, it is important to acknowledge the cultural differences between nations that exist. The why, the how, and the results are all impacted by cultural nuance and perspective.
  3. Children will explore this conflict on their own even with your guidance. They will have their own questions and are understandably nervous. Encourage them to make smart media choices as they investigate. Excellent examples to introduce include The Week Junior and Newsela. Strongly caution them against doomscrolling through social media and trusting punditry from TikTok that may not be accurate. Depending on their age, they may ask their teacher to confirm and support their understanding. Sadly, social studies has been diminished in the US education system over the past few decades. In most cases, children will not receive dedicated instruction for social studies until 7th grade and that is US history. In elementary grades, students receive simplistic overviews of geography and ancient civilizations. It isn’t until high school that they receive actual instruction on major world events such as the Cold War that continue influencing geopolitical events today. Keep this lack of exposure and instruction in mind during your conversations.
  4. Be cognizant of your tone and body language in conversation and when receiving their questions. Answer calmly and accurately, without getting overly emotional. Create a space for listening and assure them they are safe while also validating how they are feeling about the experiences of others. A quick look at Google search trends gives some insight into what children are thinking: Why does Russia want to invade Ukraine? Why does Putin want Ukraine? Is this WW3? Will there be a draft? Remember, too, that if children don’t seem at all interested in what’s happening in Ukraine, that’s OK. Don’t push their interest. Remember that one cannot know what they don’t already know. I suggest you offer your support and guidance when or if they do become interested in the conflict.
  5. If your child is understandably worried for families in Ukraine, think of ways your family can help. There are charities and organizations accepting donations to support refugees but make sure they are vetted and legitimate. NPR has compiled a list of such agencies that can serve as a starting point. When kids are given the opportunity to help others, they get a feeling of agency - and that can be comforting.

These are complex and confusing times sure to cause anxiety for people in all age groups. Remember that it is OK to say you are unsure or don’t have an answer. Doing the leg work as a family is a lesson in and of itself. Set aside time to have conversations, find answers. The most important thing for children is to feel secure. Helping them feel safe and heard is the best thing you can do at this moment.

Source: Canva
International diplomacy is an essential skill for future generations to learn.
Source: Canva
More from Teru Clavel
More from Psychology Today