Help Your Child Understand the News About Ukraine

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Man speaks to his young daughter about the Ukraine crisis and international conflict

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As the world watches the conflict in Ukraine in real time, many children here at home are being exposed to disturbing images of war.

News of international unrest can cause anxiety and fear in children, teens and adults. Parents and other grownups in a child’s life should talk to them about what’s happening and how it makes them feel.

Most importantly, children want to feel safe, says Mark Casdorph, DO, Upper Valley Outpatient Behavioral Health in Troy.

When talking with children about Ukraine and any upsetting crisis, our response should be appropriate to the child’s age and developmental level, Dr. Casdorph says.

“All of them want to know if they are safe at home and if there will be problems here,” Dr. Casdorph says. “You can’t lie. A younger child probably can’t understand the potential global issues, but they can understand that they are safe at home with their family.”

Manage the Conversation

It may be best to be proactive, but you can wait until your child asks about the situation, Dr. Casdorph says. You want to help your child manage their fears, especially those linked to violence.

  • Ask what your child or teen knows
  • Ask what their friends are saying
  • Keep your own emotions in check
  • Use plain language in your discussion

In talking with a younger child about Ukraine, you can share that it is a country on the other side of the world, Dr. Casdorph says. Explain that Russia, a bigger country, is bullying the smaller Ukraine. Acknowledge that people are getting hurt.

In today’s climate of fake news, assure your older child that what’s happening is real. Talk to your teen about the difference between factual news stories and commentary pieces that favor an author or commentator’s opinion.

Check out news sites for children, like the NBC Nightly News Kids Edition with Lester Holt. This video gives background on what’s happening in Ukraine.

“Watch the news together,” Dr. Casdorph says. “This opens a channel of dialogue. You can explain what’s happening and answer questions.”

Be Honest and Listen

You know your child best. If they have no interest in the topic, don’t force them to talk about it, Dr. Casdorph says. But pay attention to their actions and words. If they withdraw or need more assurance from you, be sensitive to that. Don’t dismiss their feelings or opinions.

“Don’t just say it will all be fine. They’ll know you’re not listening to them,” Dr. Casdorph says.

He offers these tips:

  • Be honest and reassuring.
  • Collect your thoughts before starting a discussion.
  • Find ways to help. Donate to the International Red Cross. Write letters to refugees.
  • Learn together. Check out Convene the Council, a foreign policy game the from the Council on Foreign Relations and iCivics.
  • Limit exposure to TV news about the conflict.
  • Monitor your teen’s exposure to online news or videos about the conflict.
  • Watch or listen to the news with your child regularly to check-in with them.

Want more resources? Dr. Casdorph recommends these sites:

Remember that children learn how to respond to situations by watching how we act, Dr. Casdorph says. “Be comforting, but don’t make unrealistic promises. You can’t tell them there won’t be another war. But you want them to talk to you.”

It's easy to get the care you need.

See a Premier Physician Network provider near you.