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Talking to Children About War

March 9, 2022

Children may feel confused and scared over the recent invasion of Ukraine by Russia. Such feelings are normal but providing support and the right kind of information can help our children to feel more secure. According to Christopher Lynch, PhD, psychologist and director of Pediatric Behavioral Medicine for Goryeb Children’s Hospital, “Children benefit from honest explanations about what is happening but those explanations must be tailored to the age and developmental level of the child”.

Dr. Lynch offers some general guidelines to follow when talking with your children about the ongoing invasion:

  1. Be honest with the facts of the situation. Children can often tell when parents are leaving out or glossing over important details. If you do not provide them with the facts, they may imagine the situation inaccurately and think that their own safety is in jeopardy.
  2. Provide information at an age-appropriate level. Be honest with your children but use words and concepts that your children can understand. Asking your child to repeat back what they heard you say can help identify any need for clarification.
  3. Reassure your child that they are safe. Children need to know that the adults in their world are in control and know what to do to keep them safe. In the case of this conflict, children may need to understand that the invasion is far away and that they are well protected from it.
  4. Act to help in any way that you can. Children can feel more control over a situation if they can help in some way. Your child may want to donate items, or part of their allowance, maybe they want to make up a card or banner for Ukrainian children. Any of these gestures will teach your children compassion and help them to make a difference.
  5. Monitor media exposure and limit when necessary. There are many disturbing images that are being displayed through television and other forms of media. These images may be too disturbing for children to process. Find out from your children where they are getting their information from so that you can clarify or limit when necessary.

Everyone, including children, have at least some awareness of what is happening. Dr. Lynch says parents can proactively start a dialogue with their children to assess their thoughts and feelings on the topic. “Talking to your children about the invasion will show them that it is OK to talk about difficult feelings and that we are there to help them.”

Christopher Lynch, PhD, is part of Atlantic Medical Group, a multispecialty network of health care providers. He can be reached by phone >