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Talking About War With Your Kids: What to Say and How to Say It

It's time to have another difficult conversation with your child. This time, about war.
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Last Updated
April 22, 2019
posted on
March 18, 2022
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5 min
Minute Read

Over the past couple of years, we’ve had to talk to our kids about some really difficult topics: the pandemic, racism, and now we can add to the list, war. 

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has been broadcast more than most wars on social media, T.V. and podcasts. Tragic images have been published, interviews with evacuees are streaming, and the news seems to worsen with each day.

Perhaps you’re protecting your child from the news, but if he has a smartphone or a friend with one, chances are he’s heard about this war, and he’s probably confused, worried or scared.

We live in an age where it’s nearly impossible to keep big news stories from our children. The news is simply too prolific and too available on too many platforms. If you’re seeing multiple messages a day about a tragedy or horrific event, your child probably is too. Which begs the question, how do you talk to your child about war?

While this topic is weighty and complicated and will depend on your individual child, family and needs, I do have some guidance on how to navigate this difficult conversation with your child.

1. Don’t avoid the conversation.

If your child is asking you about the war in Ukraine, or if you know your child is hearing about it, don’t avoid talking about it. We tend to think talking about difficult things with our child will only make her more afraid, but the truth is avoiding talking about an event your child already knows about will simply allow her questions to go unanswered. That’s what will make her more afraid. 

Don’t avoid the conversation for the sake of your child’s fears; have the conversation and make it a priority.

(If your child is under the age of seven and hasn’t asked you about the conflict yet, don’t initiate a conversation. Wait until she asks about it.)

2. Be age-appropriate.

If your child is around ages eight to 11, don’t complicate the conversation. Don’t go into the history of Russia and Vladimir Putin and the Soviet Union. Don’t try to explain sanctions and the U.S.’s role in a war like this. Use simple language that speaks to his specific questions and concerns. 

If your child is a pre-teen or teen, he can understand complicated situations more easily, and he is probably hearing about the nuance of the conflict at school. Continue to address your teen’s specific questions and concerns but know that he can handle more nuance than a younger child can.

3. Keep the lines of communication open.

As this war continues to unfold, more will happen, more news will be reported, and your child will continue to have questions. That’s OK. Reassure your child each time you talk about it that she can come to you with questions or concerns. This is not a one-and-done conversation but an ongoing one. This will feel greatly reassuring to your child.

Parents, it’s difficult enough that this war is happening, talking to your child about it adds yet another layer of difficulty. While it may feel uncomfortable, I encourage you to stay aware of your child. Is he reading the news? Is he hearing it at school or at home on T.V.? If so, step into a conversation about it, not thinking you have all the answers but knowing that you are uniquely equipped to assure your child by simply being open and present.

Dr. Meg Meeker, MD

Practicing pediatrician, parent, grandparent, coach, speaker, and author. Say hello @MegMeekerMD

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