• Deirdre Brandner

How To Talk About Ukraine and Russia With Your Child:

The last week has been extremely challenging for so many reasons; floods, ongoing COVID disruptions and global concern for the situation in Ukraine have all dominated the news cycle. The media coverage, our concerns about this conflict and the schoolyard conversations will all be impacting our children, no matter the age. We need to be extra mindful of the exposure that these images and content presents to our children on social media channels. It’s not as easy as just switching off the TV!

Some images can be very confronting, and your child may not be at the level of psychological development to deal with what they are viewing. It is recommended that children under 10 years of age should view the news with an adult.

Images say much more, so if your child is going to view images of what is happening, they need to be able to emotionally deal with that information. If they are very young or you believe they would find the images disturbing, have a simple conversation using facts. It can be easier to talk with your child about what is happening using non-emotional language. We can use this as an opportunity to ask about how they are feeling about the situation.Don’t be afraid to ask if what they are watching has bothered them? This is also a very good opportunity to encourage children to share worries or fears with family.

Ask them if they have any questions. Children may be concerned this could happen to them in Australia. Others may be concerned about what will happen to the women and children. Some may want to understand how or why this has happened. Provide simple non-emotional non-judgemental responses. Admit if you don’t know all the answers or offer to find out more information. As a parent it is okay for us to admit when we don’t know something.

Children experience real empathy towards those suffering in the Ukraine, so anything they can do to help makes them feel better. Explain what organisations and governments around the world are doing to help. Work with your child to find a way to aid these people in need.

If your child has social media apps and are accessing or being presented with images of this conflict we need to have an honest discussion. Children access news very differently from us. Our children need to have knowledge of digital literacy that ensures that they know that these news sources are not always accurate. Unlike the nightly news or coverage from respected news sources, on social media there is no commentary provided, there is no sourcing of the content and the aim of this information medium is to get a reaction. There have been instances of doctored images and videos of this conflict that are being shared between our young people. Encourage your child to take a break or limit the exposure to these images and posts. Support them to access information from reputable news sources.

These are my recommendations for conversations with your child:

  • Keep discussion simple, explain the countries involved and use a map to explain where they are in relation to us

  • Make it clear that Australia is safe, “we are not involved and are not going to war”

  • Explain that lots of people are worried because we feel bad for the people who live in Ukraine. It is very difficult for the people who live there and we want to help them. Discuss ways we can do this, charities, fundraisers

  • Don’t go into too much detail, children will struggle to comprehend complexities

  • Don’t have the news on all day, but be mindful that children are inundated with media updates through other avenues and that information may be alarmist

  • Language such as bombing, invasions and World War 3 can be anxiety-provoking and it is important that children understand this is very rare and doesn’t impact them.

  • Don’t let your own anxieties impact your response to children’s question

  • Listen to their questions and concerns however don’t offer too much information

  • Children worry more when grown-ups are not willing to talk about something, so answer direct questions briefly

  • We can use this as a teachable moment where we talk about right and wrong, morals and the desire for peace.

  • Put boundaries around the exposure to negative information. Model your own behaviour around this.

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