How to talk to children about the Russian invasion of Ukraine & why those conversations are important
If you are a parent, grandparent, teacher, youth and community worker or another professional in a child supportive role, you may ask yourself: Should I talk to children and young people about these world events? Parents may also be turning to you for some guidance for their own conversations with their children.
It can be hard to know whether or not to discuss certain issues with children and young people so if we do, how should we go about doing it?
It is helpful to plan for how to have open and honest discussions with children and young people so they can grow up as informed and thoughtful people. The information provided by First News and CBBC Newsround are reliable sources for information engaging in conversations about the Ukraine invasion with children and young people and how to tailor
them based on age and maturity levels.
Children of different ages and maturity will have different levels of understanding and capacity for processing the information regarding the events unfolding in Ukraine.
Children and young people are not the first generation of children to grow up with wars and distressing world events. What is new is how this generation of young people are accessing and consuming news and world events through social media and seeing events happen in real time.
Children under the age of five may have a very limited understanding of the conflict in Ukraine. Older children and young people will have heard and learnt more from school, their friends, the news and social media. If a child or young person asks you a question about what is happening, you can provide them with simple information they can relate to. Avoid providing
more detail than requested.
Be prepared yourself with the basic facts and be honest about what you understand and what you don’t know and do not speculate. You will find that bringing up the conversation with children and young people, at Youth Club for example, allows you to find out what they know, talk about the news they have heard and for them to share their concerns. You can then offer
strategies that can help if they are feeling upset about it.
What Defence is doing
Explain that the UK is a NATO Country and that like all other NATO Countries we are concerned about what Russia is doing. We have increased our troop levels in Estonia. We are assisting Ukraine with Arms and Ammunition, as well as supporting the world by condemning Russia and using Sanctions to try and stop the invasion. We are supporting with Aid and helping with the Refugee crisis.
3 reasons to talk to children and young people about the war in Ukraine
To help children process difficult emotions that may arise. Although it might seem like a good idea to avoid an in-depth discussion to prevent an increased anxiety or alarm, having a supportive discussion about a stressful event can decrease distress. Having these conversations provides you with the opportunity to help a child or young person make sense of how they might be feeling and to provide reassurance.
To combat misinformation. In this age of abundant access to news and media, children and young people have likely already been exposed to some kind of information
— pictures, video clips or news — about the invasion of Ukraine. Unfortunately, there has been a lot of misinformation shared on social media apps routinely used by young people, such as TikTok and Snapchat. This makes it critical for parents and those working with children and young people to keep children informed of the Ukraine invasion based on
reliable information from reputable sources and to provide opportunities for children to ask questions.
To model and encourage compassionate views towards others. Taking the time to talk with children about world events is an opportunity to highlight the importance of understanding the emotions and circumstances of others in an appropriate way. Asking any child or young person a question such as “what might someone else in this situation
be feeling right now?” can produce a caring discussion.
Addressing the question with young people – what is going on in Ukraine?
Your conversation could follow these lines –
• You may have seen or heard on the news that there is a lot of talk at the moment about
two countries: Ukraine and Russia. Russia is a huge country that is partly in Europe,
and Ukraine is a smaller country in Europe that sits between Russia and the rest of
• Russia’s President is called Mr Vladimir Putin. He thinks that Russia should be able
to be able to control what goes on in Ukraine and in the last few weeks has told his
army to attack Ukraine to make that happen. It is no surprise that the government in
Ukraine do not agree. The President of Ukraine is called Mr Volodymyr Zelenskyy and
he is asking his army to try to fight off the Russian army. He is also encouraging civilian
people in the country to join in and help with the fighting.
• Russia is a massive country and they have a huge army. Ukraine has a much smaller
army but is allied with the European Union and also the UK. Most of the countries in
the world are very unhappy with Russia for invading another country because this
breaks international law. It is unfair on the people of Ukraine to be treated like this,
and the attack by Russia is hurting and killing people who live in Ukraine.
• The British Armed Forces are not directly involved in the War in Ukraine, however the
British government thinks it is very important that Ukraine must be allowed to be its
own Country. This means that the people of Ukraine should decide on what happens
there, not the government of another country. It is also important to the British
government that International Law is not broken and that one country cannot take over
another without their say so.
Guidance to offer parents
Your guidance to parents seeking advice from you could be –
• First, make sure that you are feeling calm enough to have a discussion about the
subject. If you are feeling upset, tired or distressed, it is best to give yourself some time
and space before initiating any conversation about Ukraine. It is also best to have the
discussion when there are limited distractions and when you can devote sufficient time
• Start by asking your child what they have heard or what they might know about the
conflict in Ukraine. Next, validate and normalise how they are feeling. If they say it’s
upsetting for them, you can say: “It can be scary to think about a war; most children
and adults feel scared too.”
• If your child does not know very much or does not seem to be very disconcerted about
what is happening, you can keep the discussion brief.
• Regardless of whether they are distressed or not, you can share some factual
information. For example, you might look at a map of the world together and share
where the conflict is occurring.
• Most importantly, children need reassurance that you will keep them safe. If needed,
you can make a plan to identify distractions or activities to focus on. Ultimately, by
having these conversations, you show your child that you are willing and open to
having discussions, even when times are tough. This can help build a lasting
foundation to talk about difficult topics