Helping Children Understand the War in Ukraine

A significant thought lately, especially after visiting the Valentine, is how to answer questions about today’s biggest current event: the war in Ukraine. I have already experienced these conversations with children as young as 5 who are scared that something will happen to them. Yet, I did not know how to respond because what is okay to say to someone so young?

Woman holding her young son

I understand how important it is to be open with children because many of them can see right through you. This article linked here explains how to talk to children about the war in Ukraine in age-appropriate ways. As educators, our job is to teach our students about the world and what is happening in it. The students I have come in contact with who are aware of what is happening in Europe could be getting that information from home, friends, tv,  anywhere. Our job is to calm any nerves that they might have but still be open with them in an age-appropriate way.

Have you had any similar experiences, whether with the war in Ukraine or something similar? How did you handle it?

Did you find the linked website helpful when thinking about approaching this topic with children?

Lastly, I know that even if it doesn’t turn into WWlll, this war will be in our textbooks someday and will be something that we have to teach. Thinking about that is so scary and sad because it is literally happening right before our eyes. How do you feel experiencing this history when you know what impact it will have on us as we teach our future students? I personally am so sad thinking about it, but it is life, and this is our job. I believe that even if we can’t fix the world, we can prepare our students for it and make them the best humans possible 🙂

 

 

8 thoughts on “Helping Children Understand the War in Ukraine

  1. Madison, what a timely and meaningful post you shared! It is so very tough to process one’s own feelings let alone have to teach through the myriad of thoughts and emotions that are brought on by war. I found your linked article very informative and helpful.

    I remember being a very young student and not comprehending bigger concepts such as how large our planet is and what it means to say something is happening across the globe. I remember first learning about war and being terrified bombs would fall on my house. As educators, I agree, we need to be honest and open with our young students but also reassure, as best we can, that their safety isn’t at risk. (Maybe I was reassured too but all I remember is the fear.)

    What I have found to be most frustrating is the feeling of helplessness that comes with a crisis. I think a way we can help guide students through major times of unrest is to focus their energy towards service and charity. There are numerous organizations that exist for this sole purpose. From providing resources to pets that have been left behind, providing strollers to refugee parents (as shown in recent news ), collecting stuffed animals for refugee children who had to leave their belongings behind to simply collecting money to send to various organizations such as Doctors Without Borders, each of us can contribute to the effort to help those in need and turn a horrific situation into a teachable moment for the greater good. -Erika

    How to help animals in Ukraine: 5 verified charities working on the ground https://www.today.com/pets/pets/animal-charities-ukraine-russia-war-rcna19960

    https://www.doctorswithoutborders.org/?_ga=2.107952193.2112166945.1647612941-2126705962.1647612941

    https://www.unicef.org/ukraine/en

  2. Madison, what a timely and meaningful post you shared! It is so very tough to process one’s own feelings let alone have to teach through the myriad of thoughts and emotions that are brought on by war. I found your linked article very informative and helpful.

    I remember being a very young student and not comprehending bigger concepts such as how large our planet is and what it means to say something is happening across the globe. I remember first learning about war and being terrified bombs would fall on my house. As educators, I agree, we need to be honest and open with our young students but also reassure, as best we can, that their safety isn’t at risk. (Maybe I was reassured too but all I remember is the fear.)

    What I have found to be most frustrating is the feeling of helplessness that comes with a crisis. I think a way we can help guide students through major times of unrest is to focus their energy towards service and charity. There are numerous organizations that exist for this sole purpose. From providing resources to pets that have been left behind, providing strollers to refugee parents (as shown in recent news ), collecting stuffed animals for refugee children who had to leave their belongings behind; to simply collecting money to send to various organizations such as Doctors Without Borders, each of us can contribute to the effort to help those in need and turn a horrific situation into a teachable moment for the greater good. -Erika

    How to help animals in Ukraine: 5 verified charities working on the ground https://www.today.com/pets/pets/animal-charities-ukraine-russia-war-rcna19960

    https://www.doctorswithoutborders.org/?_ga=2.107952193.2112166945.1647612941-2126705962.1647612941

    https://www.unicef.org/ukraine/en

  3. This is a timely post, Madison, and it really got me thinking about how we talk to students about upsetting current events. The only experience I have talking to kids about Ukraine is with my own daughter; we have a book on refugees that we’ve read, and I’ve also fielded questions about what “war” means and why Russian is invading a country that is not their own. These conversations have been difficult, and I don’t know that my answers have always landed. I think you’re right — as teachers our job is to 1) create a safe space, whether that means giving reassurance or simply listening to students’ concerns, and 2) tell the truth, the best we can, about what is happening in the world.

    I think with older students we can also introduce them to other voices and viewpoints. One of my favorite books is the Ukrainian-American poet Ilya Kaminsky’s Deaf Republic, and I think this would be an amazing text to introduce to older students (middle and high school) who want to learn more about power and conflict from a Ukrainian perspective. If you’re interested, you can read more about Kaminsky here: https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2022/03/ily-kaminsky-the-war-never-left.html

  4. Hi Madison,

    Currently, I am working with 18-month to two year-old students, so I haven’t had type of interaction/experience with my current students. However, it is inevitable that I will encounter these topics of conversation once I begin working with students a little older. I enjoyed the article you provided above, I felt it was explicit and clear on how to best navigate and initiate conversations with children. Further, this would be a great resource for teachers to share with their student’s parents as well; especially, if this is their first time having to explain and talk about the concept of “war.”

    Regarding the feelings I’m currently experiencing, my feelings are very similar to yours. I do believe we will be able to provide multiple perspectives on this event; especially, since we will be able to provide our own perspective. Further, educators, today, will be able to reflect and provide ways that they contributed in helping and supporting the Ukrainians during this time. Additionally, they can share their student’s (anonymously) reactions, feelings, emotions, contributions in support of the Ukrainians as well. Overall, this will allow our future students to understand that is wasn’t just an “event from the past,” and allow for more meaningful learning experience opportunities by having our future students think, talk, or write about how they might feel or what they might do if they were living during this time.

    Thank you for your wonderful post!

    Kind regards 🙂

  5. Madison,
    Great topic and very time appropriate. I really love the article you shared, it’s really important to be open to discussing and explaining this to kids in an honest but age appropriate way. Something that really stuck out to me from the article you shared was sharing with kids that it’s okay to feel those negative emotions like fear, worry and sadness. All of these emotions are part of the process kids go through to understand and interpret the world around them and themselves. A lot of times, as adults, we can be quick to tell children not to be sad or that they should be happy and there’s no need to worry. Although in some cases this is appropriate, it’s important that children feel these feelings and deal with the emotion, especially in a sensitive situation like this. As much as we wish we could shelter kids from things like war and oppression, it is a cruel part of the world we live in that kids need to be aware of. This has to be done in an age appropriate way of courses, and at an age where they can understand.
    I love what you said about preparing students to be the best humans possible. I think that’s so true. We can’t always fix the problem, but we can help kids process their emotions in a healthy way and educate them in a way that sets them up for success. Great topic and discussion, Madison!

  6. Madison,

    You are completely right. Children are very perceptive and are exposed to current events through a variety of outlets. We adults have a responsibility to engage them in healthy and age-appropriate conversations.

    Honestly, I have not really had any similar experiences engaging large groups of children in current event conversations. I have spoken to individual students about current events including Black Lives Matter protests. However, I often tutor/nanny students one on one, so I have more leniency to be completely open and honest with them. I often know the students and their parents extremely well, so I know what students will and will not understand intellectually/emotionally. Depending on the student, I tend to be very transparent about current events and social justice, keeping it age appropriate. I do, however, worry about having similar conversations in a classroom, where not all parents will agree with my approach.

    I found the linked website helpful. After all, honest conversations about current events are extremely important. I agree that we as adults need to process our emotions first and prepare ourselves for questions. I also liked the suggestion to focus on the “helpers” and to give kids a sense of agency through raising funds. As teachers, we cannot monitor media exposure, and I do worry about (even very young) students’ access to smart phones and the internet.

    I also am very sad and anxious thinking about many current events. However, I appreciate your perspective. You are right; we as teachers can at least try to prepare our students.

  7. Hi Madison,

    I’m glad you brought up this topic. Obviously, it has filled the airwaves, social media, and our thoughts. It is an unfortunate and hard topic; kids are also very aware of current events and want to have discourse with other peers and teachers regarding it. As educators, we have many different hats we wear; this could include being a counselor or someone who can help disperse information to soothe stress and anxiety.

    I really like the article you provided; I think it promotes honesty and transparency without highlighting the violence and suffering of Ukrainians. The healing mindset for students and those directly affected also offers opportunities for students to aid in the efforts. Perhaps they will be inspired to donate, raise awareness, have a bake sale, etc. The article also reminded me of a post by Learning for Justice called Showing Up Strong for You and Your Students in the Aftermath of Violence which breaks down similar tools for healing, learning, and growing. I think the most important takeaway from both articles is that YOU as an individual need to understand your feelings/pain first; as much as it goes against your instincts, you can not be an effective helper/advocate if you have not given yourself strength and resilience yet.

    LFJ Article: https://www.learningforjustice.org/magazine/showing-up-strong-for-yourselfand-your-studentsin-the-aftermath-of-violence

  8. Hey Madison,

    Thank you for your post, I really appreciate your taking the time to allow us to reflect about the war – not just for ourselves, but also for how we will teach students this history one day.

    I have yet to experience this type of conversation with a student or someone significantly younger than I, since I have not been able to teach formally in a classroom. And even in my experiences tutoring, camp counseling, and babysitting, I have not been struck with those hard-hitting questions. However, I did love the article that you included in your post, and I have it saved in a PDF in this class’s folder and my separate Teaching Folder haha.

    Having to know that the world is experiencing a great deal of pain and fear is very upsetting, to say the least. These kinds of events, trauma, and suffering is impactful in one way or another on the micro or macro level. I have friends from all over the world and a couple are from the Ukraine and to see them hurting is upsetting and the feeling is worse knowing that I can’t do more than donate and raise awareness through media. It’s scary to know that people who are directly affected have to deal with consequences arising from conflict stirred among leaders around the world. People who are affected live in fear and paranoia, hoping that they can make it another day every day.

    For educational purposes, current events like these that focus on conflict and a divide between groups allows for heavily impactful perspectives that students acquire. Xenophobia presents itself and this kind of divide paves way for stereotypes and inaccurate representations of the people of each nation/country. I will take the article you have provided to aid my instruction and the way I facilitate discussions in the class.

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