As I was cooking pasta to distract myself from the latest international news, if just for a few hours, I looked back at my 16-month-old grandson and wondered what I would say to him if he were even slightly aware of the tragedy taking place in Ukraine at this time. How would I explain the images on television of families, grandparents, children and their pets running for their lives and seeking safety away from their homes? How would I explain the reason for this happening in a world that I hope each day can be filled with compassion, empathy, and the best in humanity?

As a parent and grandparent, having a conversation with your child about this event can be challenging given that our own emotions and fears may be present. However, having this conversation and answering a child’s questions increases their sense of safety as well as satisfies their curiosity. The information provided should be age appropriate and shared in simple language without too much detail. Too many details can be more confusing than helpful to a child. 

How to discuss the events in Ukraine with Children:

As we approach questions that elementary school age children may have it’s important to:

  • Use simple language
  • Do not include too many details
  • Assure your child that they are safe and perhaps show them a map of where this event is happening 
  • Provide reassurance that many countries are working actively to assist Ukraine 

It’s also imperative to curb media usage as young children may not understand the proximity and complexities of the images shown. The images may increase fears and anxiety in some children as well as interrupt their focus on other daily activities. 

In answering questions posed by pre-adolescent and adolescent-age youth:

  • Having a more extensive dialogue about what is happening in Ukraine may be more appropriate in pre-adolescents and adolescents
  • Starting the dialogue with an exploration of what they’ve heard/learned so far about the event may help to create a safe space to discuss their worries and what you can help them to clarify
  • Asking questions such as “Are you feeling okay?”, “Are you concerned about what else could happen?” and “What is your greatest fear about what is happening in Ukraine?” can help your tween/teen share their thoughts
  • Remind your tween/teen that you are there for them to ‘vent’ about this event and that they are not alone

In answering questions about this uncharted event, it may also be very beneficial to highlight all of the efforts by people and several countries in assisting Ukraine. Sharing hopeful facts such as that supplies, food, clothing are being sent to families and that volunteers from other countries are on their way to help aid the Ukrainian people.  Other international leaders such as President Macron of France are working to mediate the conversations with Russia in order to put a stop to this event. Your child/youth will be able to gather some hope in knowing that even in the most challenging of times, there are always people trying to help and provide support. 

Coupled with these conversations, you should also prioritize your own self-care and allow yourself space to process this situation. Remember that you, too, are not alone.  If you are concerned that you or your child are experiencing anxiety or mood changes that interfere with daily life or if you would like more support, seeing a licensed mental health professional can help. 

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