Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has been on the hearts and minds of everyone worldwide. We see images on the news of blown-up tanks and families fleeing the country with only the things they can carry. You can only imagine how a parent must explain what’s going on to their children. Children born since 2001 have never known a country that wasn’t involved in a war. Fortunately, most children are far removed from the violence, but that doesn’t mean parents shouldn’t talk to children about the conflict.

Children are likely to learn about war at some point from the media. Acts of terrorism can be much closer to home, making for even more complicated discussions with children. So how do you explain Russia’s invasion to children? Even though these conversations can be challenging, giving kids age-appropriate information about war is essential.

Terrorism and war are scary, even to adults. To a child who might not understand the facts or realize where the conflict is occurring, it’s terrifying. Even if you try to buffer your little one from seeing images of war, whether it’s on the television or elsewhere, you should keep the lines of communication open. Here are some strategies for talking to your children about war.

Start a conversation with your child.

While some families sacrifice when a parent or other family member serves in the military, non-military families may be less inclined to talk to kids about war. Still, just because your family isn’t directly affected by war right now doesn’t mean you shouldn’t bring up the subject.

Talking about why some people intentionally hurt others and how that can lead to war is complex. For many children, it can be frightening and upsetting. Many of the concepts are likely in contrast to the messages you’ve been trying to teach your child about kindness and compassion. Starting when a child is around 4 or 5, it’s essential to discuss the facts surrounding war if your child brings it up. However, it would be best if you did so in a manner appropriate for their age.

As a parent, it’s your job to reassure them that they’re safe, as it’s vital that a child feel safe and secure. Starting a simple conversation can also be an opportunity to correct any of your child’s misunderstandings.

Find out what your child is overhearing.

To get an idea of what your child knows already, ask questions like, “Are any of your teachers talking about this at school?” You could also ask, “Do any of your friends ever talk about this stuff?”

Your child may have heard bits of information, and they may be struggling to make sense of things. Or they may have seen media coverage that you weren’t aware he was watching.

Learning what your child already knows can give you a good starting point for your conversations. Be a good listener and show your child that you’re invested in hearing what they think.

Hold back when necessary.

Typically, parents should be honest with their children. However, that doesn’t mean you need to overwhelm your child with unnecessary information.

Keep your discussions appropriate for age level and err on the side of caution. The last thing you want is your child to come out of the talk feeling even more fearful of war. Don’t minimize the seriousness of war. However, it would help if you kept in mind that your child doesn’t need to know all the gory details.

Stick to the facts without talking too much about the scope of the impact. And don’t predict what might happen next or talk about how horrific things will continue to occur in the future.

Watch media coverage with older kids and teens.

It’s crucial to restrict media coverage for younger children. Watching upsetting scenes being replayed on the news, like a terrorist attack, could be pretty traumatizing to preschool or elementary school children.

Turn off the media coverage when your child is around. Keep in mind that young children often watch TV or look over your shoulder even when you think they’re preoccupied with something else.

Tweens and teens are likely to catch some media coverage no matter how much you try to limit their exposure. They’ll see the newspaper’s front page at the grocery store, or they’ll watch the news on their tablets and smartphones.

You know how mature your child is and how much information they can handle. If they want to see the news, though, or watch a movie set during wartime, and you think she can take it, watch it together.

Encourage them to ask questions and, if you don’t know the answer, tell her that you’ll find out and follow up the next day.

Encourage compassion.

You might consider discussing military service and what it entails with your children. There’s a good chance they know someone from school with a parent who serves, so you can talk about how it might affect that student’s family.

This is also a lesson in compassion, helping your child understand that a family who has a member overseas in a war may need a little extra help. Talk to your child about volunteering in activities that support military families; this can make your child feel like they’re making an impact.

You can also talk to your child about refugees fleeing war in another country and donate to causes that support them. Children often feel more secure and confident when they know how to help.

However you talk about war with your child, it’s important to remember that all children are different and require different approaches to a complex and emotionally intense topic such as this. Try to meet your child where they are at, and be conscientious of how they are reacting along the way.

If your child seems particularly upset or affected by world events, consider finding a children’s therapist for them to talk to. You can ask your pediatrician for suggestions. If your child is school-age, you can contact their school psychologist for input as well.

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