A parent’s guide to talking with children about the war in Ukraine | Blogs


I feel the need to start with a trigger warning. Nothing too traumatic, just the gross face of a teenager.

Here’s what one of my former star journalism students, now a mom, posted on Facebook:

Quote from my eighth grader (who asked to listen to NPR on the way to school to catch the news from Ukraine): “I feel like maybe I’d be happier now if I were misinformed fool.”

I feel the pain of childishness, not to mention the anxiety of any parent with intelligent children curious about such a sad and horrible subject that seems impossible to ignore.

So how should parents talk with their children about the war in Ukraine? Are there any valid lessons that can be learned from what appears to be a senseless conflict?

For an answer to the first question, I turn to Dr. David Schonfeld of the American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Children and Disasters, who wrote a helpful article, “How to Talk With Your Child About the War in Ukraine,” to childreninhealth.org.

You know your child best, especially at what age such a discussion is appropriate. Here are some excerpts from Schonfeld’s article:

• Begin by asking your child what he already knows. Be on the lookout for misunderstandings or scary rumours. Recognize that even adults don’t know everything that’s going on.

• Ask them directly about their concerns, respond with honest reassurance and don’t ignore their fears.

• Limit exposure to media coverage, especially repetitive graphic images, and social media discussion. By the way, I remember the days of 9/11, the video of planes hitting the twin towers, shown over and over, recorded in a child’s mind as repeated attacks still going on. Children’s brains simply don’t process the world the same way adults do.

• Be aware that some children will feel the impact more than others, putting them at greater risk of distress and may need more help coping.

• Consider joining a charitable initiative as a family project. Once the children begin to feel safe and understand what is going on, many will want to help.

• Don’t worry about knowing the perfect thing to say. What children need most is having someone they trust to listen to their questions, accept their feelings, and be there for them.

To answer the second question about what valuable lessons could be learned, I turn to a series of quotes:

“The first casualty of war is the truth.”

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It’s a great opportunity to teach children that what they hear – even what they see – may or may not be true. The more emotional it is, the more outrageous it is, the closer something needs to be examined. If there is a knee-jerk reaction, let it be these questions: “Is this true? and “How do we know?”

“God created war for Americans to learn geography.”

This gem from Mark Twain’s “The Innocents Abroad” (1869) is the perfect prompt for pulling out a map of the world to study with the kids. We don’t know what you might discover, as for me Kaliningrad, this orphan part of seaside Russia located below Lithuania and at the top of Poland.

“History is a collection of lies that people have agreed to.”

We can thank Napoleon for that one. When Napoleon fell at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, one of the six countries fighting against him was the Kingdom of Prussia. Consult a map of this kingdom within the German Empire, between 1871 and 1918, and you will find the ancestors of several nations currently involved in the Ukrainian conflict. Whether Ukraine is the Russian President’s Waterloo, only time will tell. But the next time you hear Vladimir Putin or someone else talk about “the history of Ukraine,” ask, “What year are you talking about?”

“Whoever attached the bell to the tiger must remove it.”

It was one of two Chinese proverbs that Chinese President Xi Jinping quoted for President Biden during their two-hour phone call on the conflict in Ukraine. The saying dates back some eight centuries to a Song dynasty poet, Huihong, who wrote a collection of Buddhist teachings. Translation: Those who created the problem should be the ones who solve it. The other proverb was: “It takes two hands to clap”. Students in the language arts class could have fun “speaking Chinese” by being challenged to express their thoughts metaphorically. High school students in the PA’s history class can explore China’s reluctance to get involved.

“Promises and pastry are made to be broken.”

When satirist Jonathan Swift popularized the phrase with his dry Irish wit in his 1738 book, “Polite Conversation”, he created a great topic of debate for children about the importance of keeping promises and the dangers of keeping them. to break up. The debate over the origins of the war in Ukraine is plagued by howls of those aggrieved, from Ukraine over security promises in the Budapest Memorandum of 1994 when it handed over its nuclear weapons to claims that, by negotiating a 1990 treaty to reunify Germany, US Secretary of State James Baker told the leader of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, that NATO “would not move an inch east.”

“Look for helpers. You will always find people who will help you.

If you were a “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” lover, you might recognize this advice from Fred Rogers’ mother. Or more fully:

“When I was a boy and I saw scary things in the news,” Rogers said, “my mom used to tell me, ‘Seek the helpers. You will always find people who will help you. ”

The PBS program “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” began in the midst of the bloody turmoil of 1968, which I never thought this country would survive, and ended on September 11, 2001, when I had my own small children at home.

If you are a parent with young children or a teacher with loving children looking for your advice, I hope this article will help you one way or another.

To the “trigger warning” eighth grader who wanted to listen to the news on the way to school, God bless you. I admire your civic interest in what’s happening in the world today – and I fully support your desire to just be a kid with your own problems to solve.

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