How to talk to your children about Putin’s wicked war in Ukraine

A woman cries next to her children in a Kyiv bomb shelter. . Photo by Raphael Lafargue/ABACAPRESS.COM (Via Jewish News)
A woman cries next to her children in a Kyiv bomb shelter. . Photo by Raphael Lafargue/ABACAPRESS.COM (Via Jewish News)

This is a tough time for parents, with children of any age. Having just been through two years of a pandemic, we may have got used to answering questions from our children about what was happening, how they could stay safe and generally reassuring them about Covid. But while there were palpable signs of safety and protection during the pandemic – face coverings and social distancing for example, we have no such obvious reassurances when our children are watching images of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, happening in real time. Seeing mothers, babies and children struggling and stressed on crowded train platforms, separated from their fathers, uncles, brothers who have been left behind to support their country.

These children look like your children, their mothers and fathers like us. Many of us have Ukrainian grandparents or great-grandparents and we may have an enduring emotional investment in the current situation. But the images are graphic and compelling – triggering memories from some who remember conflict themselves and frightening our children of all ages.

So, what can we do to comfort our children? To answer their questions? Firstly, I believe that as a parent you have a duty to respond to your children’s questions in an honest but reassuring way. If you don’t, they may pick up misinformation elsewhere on social media or from their friends, which might make them even more distressed. And if your child is not asking questions  but their behaviour has changed in any way – they may be more withdrawn or more excitable or have trouble sleeping or have changed their eating patterns – please ask them about their concerns and have a frank but comforting conversation with them.

You, as a parent, are the eyes through which your children see the world. You will know instinctively how to talk to them in an age-appropriate way as well as recognise how much information they are able to cope with – that sometimes-difficult balance between truth and protecting them. But unlike previous conflicts, this is happening in Europe and it’s constantly in and on the news and all over social media and sadly, we can’t hide it from them.

Try not to let them see your fears, speak to them calmly and on a level that they will understand but will also reassure them. Offer them hope and some positives – what a strong and brave leader Zelensky is, how he is Jewish like them, how the people of Ukraine love and respect him and work together, just like any ‘family’ to make sure that they will all be safe. Show them old photos of their grandparents or great-grandparents and frame the narrative, so that they see unity, strength, determination and joy in being Jewish.

The balance between protecting your children and answering their questions to allay their fears is a fine one, but it’s one as parents we all have to find to ensure that our children find the reassurance and the resilience that they will need to get through these terrible times.

About the Author
Jo Hemmings is a behavioural psychologist and relationship coach
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