War through a child’s eyes – How to speak to your children about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine


Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is unsettling for the world, but it can be easy to forget the eyes and ears of the little people in our lives watching on in terror.

While anxiety among adults is often heightened amid a growing sense of uncertainty and helplessness, for children it can be even more terrifying.

The best attempts to keep it from younger ones don’t always go to plan, with playground talk of World War Three and adult conversations involving ‘bombs’ and ‘invasion’.

And when children reach a certain age, it’s not possible to ignore the many questions they have about such conflict.

So where do you start?

Well experts say children of different ages and levels of understanding will need different information delivered in different styles and language so there’s no one size fits all here.

What is clear though is that you know your child best and you’re the one who is best placed to know what they can deal with.

Manchester psychotherapist Sarie Taylor has been giving her tips on what parents can do to reassure their children during such a traumatic time.

Children who fled the conflict from neighboring Ukraine play on the floor of an event hall in a hotel offering shelter in Romania

Her 5 key points to bear in mind include:

  • Be mindful of conversations you are having that children can hear as they will look to you as parents for reassurance.
  • Look after yourself and your own anxieties as a parent so that you feel more grounded when supporting your children.
  • Encourage your children to scroll past any social media posts or videos and explain these are often based on opinion and restricted or one sided information.
  • Be open to discussion and explain it’s normal for them to feel upset. It’s important to listen to them and their concerns but there is a balance and a line we can draw to then redirect the conversation. I would avoid lengthy conversations particularly when your children are tired as their thinking will automatically be more contaminated. I would direct the conversation more towards people’s kindness and resilience as human beings. Remind them how thoughts and worries work and that our reality is what we are thinking in any given moment.
  • Remember to have moments of fun and joy with your children even when things seem tough in general, this helps us maintain balance and grounding day to day.

“Ask your children, right in this very moment are we OK?” said

Anxiety coach Sarie, who has her own Perfectly Imperfect Mind Mentor business, said: “Ask your children, right in this very moment are we OK? Usually the answer is ‘yes’ and reassure them we can stay with that until/or if that changes.

“Fear is very often more about what ifs rather than a situation we personally find ourselves in, in that moment. Fear comes down to uncertainty, unpredictability and the unknown and us desperately wanting to understand and feel more in control.

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“There will always be something to fear because our thoughts can always take us to a place in the future we worry about, something completely out of our control but when in our thoughts create feelings and often physical symptoms of stress and anxiety.”

Psychotherapist Sarie Taylor with daughter Maia

Mum-of-one Sarie, who is based in Sale, added: “We can not fix and control our external environment – it would be great if we could – and so we spend most of the time in our heads trying to predict the future and prepare ourselves for it.

“This often results in stress, anxiety and even panic for the simple reason that no amount of predicting, worrying and wondering changes any outcome, it just causes suffering in that moment.

“As we know from being in a pandemic for a good while and now all we see in the media is about countries going to war, this highlights that what we see as a threat one minute can change in an instant.

“The suffering and the anxiety in most part is coming from us trying to be in control through our thoughts and let’s face it, in these current times, we can easily access a large amount of opinions, information and concerns in a heartbeat.

“This takes us away from seeing our resilience and ability to cope under stress and starts us considering the future and how we would manage and cope when in fact we are already managing and coping.

“Particularly with our children we want to be highlighting to them the resilience of human nature, show and talk about how human beings often rally together to support each other in times of need for example.

“It’s also important to help our children understand that no amount of worry and attempting to predict what might or might not happen will change anything, what it does do is causes them to feel fearful and upset in the meantime.”

Sarie will be joining us live on our Manchester Family Facebook page at 8pm on Tuesday evening (March 1) to discuss your concerns. Do you have a question about how to help your child cope during these difficult times? Let us know in the comments here and Sarie will address your concerns.

Damage to property in Kyiv, Ukraine, caused by an explosion during Russia’s invasion

‘Mum, dad… what does this mean’?

Of course there are so many new words that children hear during such a time and sometimes it’s hard to find the simplest explanations.

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Program such as Newsround offer clear explanations to help youngsters understand exactly what’s happening.

Here are their key terms you need to know about the war in Ukraine and what they mean…

annexation

Annexation is when a country decides it now controls another area, without the agreement of the people involved or anyone else they might need to get permission from.

It is prohibited by international law.

It’s what was done to Crimea by Russia in 2014 – something that is seen to have been the start of the current war in Ukraine.

Displaced

If a person is displaced, it means that they’ve been forced to leave their home because it’s no longer safe to live there.

If someone displaces another person, it means they are the reason the other person is forced out of where they live.

Invasion

An invasion is when an army enters another country by force. It’s usually done to take control of the area or country they’re entering.

Kremlin

The Kremlin is a big fortress in Moscow containing government buildings and the official residence of Russia’s leaders.

Think of it like number 10 Downing Street in the UK, or the White House in the US.

It was built hundreds of years ago, at the end of the 15th century.

The Kremlin is also a term used to refer to parts of the Russian government – again, in the same way someone in the UK might refer to Number 10 as a way of talking about the Prime Minister’s team.

Vladimir Putin
Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has been universally condemned

Born

Nato stands for the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.

It is an international organization which brings together the armies of various countries, including the UK, the United States and France.

The aim of Nato is to make sure that its member countries all defend each other against anybody that might attack them, like Russia. Ukraine isn’t a member of Nato, which is why Nato isn’t getting involved.

It was formed by 12 countries in 1949, four years after the Second World War.

As of 2022, Nato now has 30 member countries.

oligarchs

Oligarchs are a group of very successful business people in Russia who became very rich very quickly after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

They own a lot of important things in Russia, like media companies, oil plants and banks. They’ve also bought a lot of businesses and properties in places like London.

Because of their involvement in such big Russian organisations, some people think they have a lot of political influence in the country.

refugee

A refugee is someone who leaves their country because it has become unsafe for them to stay there. They then go and look for somewhere to live in a different country.

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War is often a reason this happens – the United Nations say that up to four million refugees could flee Ukraine as a result of the war that’s happening there.

sanctions

A sanction is a penalty applied to a country by another when they are seen to be doing something wrong.

They can also be set against companies, organizations or even individual people.

Sanctions are imposed in an attempt to change a country’s government’s behaviour.

Short of going to war, they are one of the toughest measures a country can take.

Sanctions are often financial, so about money – for example, a country may say they’ll stop trading with another, which impacts how much money that country can make.

separatists

A separatist is a person who is a member of a certain group (this could be religious, or people with particular political beliefs) who think that this group should be independent from the country they’re in.

This means that they would have a separate government or in some way live apart from other people.

In this photo provided by the Ukrainian Presidential Press Office, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy delivers his speech addressing the nation in Kyiv, Ukraine, Friday, Feb. 25, 2022. R
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy

Slava Ukraine

This is a phrase that’s being used a lot in videos of people in Ukraine right now, including the country’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

It’s Ukrainian for ‘Glory to Ukraine’, and started in the army – it first became popular during the Ukrainian War Of Independence from 1917-1921.

Sovereignty

This is the term used to describe the authority a country has to govern itself. This means that no one else has the right to interfere in their affairs, or decisions that their government makes.

Similarly, a sovereign nation is a country that has a government that has the power to decide what happens within its borders.

People are angry at Russia’s invasion of Ukraine because they think it violates Ukraine’s right to govern without interference.

United Nations

The United Nations, or UN, is an organization made up of representatives from 193 countries (which is almost every country in the world).

They have a few years, including bringing governments together to meet and form friendships, and to promote peace and security around the world.

If any of the member states has a problem, they can bring it to the UN, where it will be discussed and they will try to find solutions.

USSR

Russia and Ukraine both used to be part of a very big country called the Soviet Union, and before that the Russian Empire.

In 1922, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (the USSR) – better known as the Soviet Union, was formed. It invaded and annexed a lot of other countries.

The USSR was a communist country, with its headquarters in Russia’s capital Moscow, and it did not agree with western, capitalist countries (like the UK and the US) and their way of doing things, like letting people speak freely or elect their own leaders .

The USSR existed until 1991, when it broke up into 15 smaller countries, as the states it had annexed became independent again.




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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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