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How to talk to children about the invasion of Ukraine | Education

I want to take a moment to speak to parents and caregivers of preschool and elementary age children. The news coming out of Europe right now is terrible. Sometimes, our instinct is to avoid talking to kids about tough topics in the news because we don’t want to upset them. And maybe we don’t even know where to start.

My children are on school vacation this week, but when they return, their classmates will talk about Russia and Ukraine. So, if my kids don’t have conversations with me about it first, they get their initial information from someone else.

I’m not advocating sticking little kids in front of cable news. But there is an insight from Fred Rogers that touches all aspects of my upbringing:

Anything human is referable and anything referable is more manageable. When we talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting and less scary.

Our job is to provide our children with accurate, age-appropriate information, reminding them that they are safe and that they are loved.

So how do we do it?

Yesterday, my 8-year-old and I spent some time talking about the invasion of Ukraine. He understood more – contextually and empathetically – than I expected.

Here are some things that have helped:

1. A map: I took out the globe and asked him to put his finger on Ukraine, Russia and the Black Sea. We touched on other countries and talked a bit about the formation and breakup of the Soviet Union (just simple history/geography).

2. We have talked about some of the reasons why wars start And how it was a “war of choice”, because the Russian leader wanted “more”. It is simply wrong, it is wrong for someone to barge into his room and say “this is all mine”.

3. I explained the restrictions in simple terms and named some other countries that impose restrictions. I showed him a picture of Russians protesting because I didn’t want him to associate the despot’s actions with the people of the entire country.

4. We talked about refugees. I reminded him about the donation drive we did last fall to collect items for Afghan refugees. I showed a picture of the Ukrainians at the train station, tried to leave. “Let’s find ways to help,” I told him.

5. It’s helpful that we’ve talked a lot about refugees in an age-appropriate way over the years. He knows that his grandfather fled Austria when Germany invaded. That is part of their family history. We connected those dots.

Finally, I told him that we would keep talking about it and that he could ask me questions whenever he wanted.

But, what if your children are still young?

For children in pre-K and kindergarten, it’s still worth having these conversations because when we don’t, their imaginations often fill in the details based on snippets they pick up from conversations with classmates or adults. But you can simplify the details further.

1. Try using a metaphor like the one above: You might ask your child, “How would you feel if someone took all your toys without asking? Right now, the leader of one country, Russia, is trying to take another country and say, ‘Ukraine is mine.’ That’s not right, and that’s why many other countries, including the United States, are telling him to stop. Draw a map And show them where they live and where this is happening. Then, see what questions they have and answer them in simple terms.

2. Reassure them that they are safe and loved. That’s a big part of our job. Remind them that they can always bring their questions and concerns to you.

3. Point out what people are trying to help. Remind them that some people are helping refugees or donating money to help them, some in Russia are protesting and telling their president to stop, etc. As Fred Rogers’ mother tells him during a terrible time, “Find a helper.”

4. Books are a great way to open young children’s understanding of the world and develop empathy. Here are three picture books about refugees that will help children gain a better understanding of this and other conflicts around the world.

This book is a simple, accessible introduction to what it means to be a refugee.

  • “Lubna and Pebble” (ages 4-8) written by Wendy Meddor and illustrated by Daniel Agnus

A young woman in a refugee camp holds her special pebble – to give it to a child who needs it even more.

The true story of how aid workers in Greece helped an Iraqi refugee family reunite with their beloved pet.

As caregivers, we must pay attention to the coverage our children see and hear on TV and radio, as well as what they hear through phone calls with friends and family. Images can be scary and overwhelming. But I believe in starting to consciously build children’s knowledge of the world at an early age and doing so in a way that fosters their empathy and compassion.

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