Talking with your older children about war and conflict


Dear Adele,

Images of destruction, devastation, and death from the war in Ukraine fill the screens of our televisions and social media devices. Our children, ages 11 and 15, cannot help but see them and be affected by this human catastrophe in Ukraine. How do you suggest we handle talking about the topic of this conflict and war?

Peace Lovers


Dear Peace Lovers,

The images you describe are undoubtedly as frightening to your children as they are to us. They may cause worry, stress, physical ailments and prompt an abundance of questions and concerns.

I suggest you start by answering your progeny’s questions simply and honestly. Try to find out what they already know and move them forward in their understanding, as is age-appropriate and satisfying to their level of inquisitiveness.

Explain that sometimes adults from different countries disagree and have conflict. We hope that they will solve their disagreements peacefully, but sometimes they do not, and war breaks out. This is the case in the Russia-Ukraine war.

Reassure your children that the war in Ukraine is far away and hopefully will not involve Canada in fighting. Let them know Canada and other countries will help the Ukrainian people as much as possible, trying to keep families safe, settling them in new countries, and sending them such things as supplies, money, and weapons for defense.

Let them know that war is terrifying and not something that you support as a way of resolving conflict. Be clear in your values and share your own feelings briefly. Ask your children open-ended questions to help them express their feelings. Acknowledge their fears about this terrible event in history and make certain they know that you will do everything you can to keep them safe. Other adults, who are world leaders, have the responsibility to bring peace and terminate the war as rapidly as possible.

You might be feeling a little underinformed, as do many of us, about this current international event. So, with middle school kids and high schoolers, you can tell them that you want to learn with them, and from them, about the Russian-Ukraine war, as no doubt this event is being discussed at school and among their friends, as well as in the media. A map of the world could be used to show the location of Ukraine and Russia relevant to Canada. Family discussions on related topics such as different forms of government, the role of the UN and NATO, and kinds of humanitarian aid for refugees will enhance older children’s understanding of the war. Watching selected news reports and political discussion programs from high-quality, reliable sources as a family could be very useful in educating your offspring about war and conflict. If you do not already subscribe to a newspaper, it might be an appropriate time to get a subscription or two for your home.

It would be valuable to your children’s character development to find and tell stories of bravery, courage, and kindness which highlight exemplary people involved in this tragedy that you and your children want to emulate. Perhaps your family can think of ways to help, as well, through involvement in the community, school, or church groups, writing poetry, creating posters for peace, writing letters to our leaders, or praying.

Conclude your conversations about this subject on as positive a note as you can. Watch your children’s body language and listen to the emotional content of their speech to ensure they are comfortable to leave the subject. Avoid these discussions at bedtime. Do bring up the topic from time to time to see how your offspring are dealing with the ongoing progress of the conflict.

In younger children or less mature children, you might want to shield them from disturbing graphic images such as explosions, fire, and crumbling buildings by limiting their exposure to television and media as much as possible. I suggest filling their free time with distractions, such as games, sports, and outdoor activities.

Finally, try to remain calm yourself and stay informed, Peace Lovers. Talk out your feelings with other adults and be prepared to support and validate your children’s feelings about any new knowledge concerning this horrific humanitarian disaster.

Thank you for writing on this difficult issue. I will conclude with a few inspiring quotations about war which you might find useful as conversation starters with your youngsters at this teachable and critical moment in history.

The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.” – Plato

All war is a symptom of man’s failure as a thinking animal.”– Bertrand Russell

If we don’t end war, war will end us.” – JRR Tolkien

Sincerely, Adele

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