The world is a crazy place right now, how do we talk to our children about it?

talking to children

Children are, sadly, still growing up in a world where war, crime, climate change, poverty, disease and more are rarely out of the headlines, just as when I was young. 

So how should parents, grandparents and guardians address these issues to make children more aware and increase understanding without being frightened and fearful for the future? 

Using the war in Ukraine as an example, I have put together some helpful pointers on having conversations with children about complex and sensitive issues.

Don’t sweep global issues under the carpet

Before I get onto what you might like to say, I will talk about what my research has shown it’s best not to do. Telling children not to worry about the war, that it is far away and that they won’t be affected can make them assume they’re unable to talk about their feelings with you. It is OK to acknowledge that the situation is serious and that being afraid is natural. 

Begin by finding out what they already know 

Most children hear about global issues on TV and radio, from school friends and teachers, or from overhearing adult conversations. Older children may also be looking online or on social media. 

Hearing just small snippets from trustworthy sources, or false rumours from other people, can mean that information isn’t always factually correct.  

Open conversation by asking them what they know already and where they heard it from, then listen carefully without jumping in to correct them otherwise they may feel that what they have to say is of little value and not want to continue talking. 

When they have finished speaking, gently tell them the truth to prevent confusion and explain that situations can change quickly, with adults sometimes unaware of the full story too, leading to misunderstandings. 

Depending on the child’s age, it may also be an opportunity to discuss how various media outlets can show biased opinions by reporting on the same story but with conflicting views. 

It goes without saying that exposure to graphic images can be very stressful, especially if the child has experienced grief or is particularly sensitive. Limit the possibility of exposure by distracting them from the TV and phone and listen out for any mentions of school friends sharing disturbing photos and videos. Some children have a morbid fascination with looking at images such as injured people and seeing others’ reactions to them.  

Continuing the conversation

Talking is the best way to help children process situations and, by discussing feelings, they will seem less frightening.  

Children may be vaguely aware of concerns that only adults truly understand, such as the threat of nuclear weapons or financial implications, but will likely have concerns of their own. 

It’s important to ask what most upsets them and why, then allow them to talk honestly about their feelings and address any issues such as stress and anxiety. These can cause mood changes, difficulty sleeping, lack of appetite, getting into trouble at school and more, so look out for signs of unusual behaviour. 

It’s fine to tell children how you feel too; just do so without making it sound too sensationalised. For example, rather than saying you’re terrified you could agree you’re worried about those affected too. Follow this by saying how you are managing those feelings. 

Explain exactly how the war affects you as a family only but acknowledge how thoughtful it is of them to be concerned for other people and the broader implications. 

Children will react differently to situations depending on how mature they are for their age and what they’ve experienced in their lifetime. Look out for events that may trigger something specifically in your child. For example:

  • They may have heard about food poverty and be worried they will have nothing to eat
  • They may have a Russian best friend who is experiencing prejudice
  • They may have grown up in a violent area and seeing fighting on the news has brought back unhappy memories

Helping children to help others

Children can get a considerable amount of enjoyment and feel more in control by helping those affected by the war. Remember, children absorb good and bad information, so showing them stories about charitable fundraising and people in the UK hosting families might make them want to get involved with an initiative or hold their own, such as a bake or toy sale. 

Key takeaways:

  • Don’t be afraid to talk to children about issues; just ensure the facts are correct to prevent any confusion
  • Reassure them they are safe from danger but acknowledge that it is OK to have concerns
  • Ask how they are affected, then come up with a plan to manage their feelings
  • Telling them you feel the same way can help keep conversations going and assure them that you believe them and are taking their concerns seriously
  • Suggest they do something to help such as a charity bake sale

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