How to Talk to Children About War in Ukraine

An Adventist teacher shares what she and others are doing to reassure students.

Jodie Aakko, Rocky Mountain Conference News
How to Talk to Children About War in Ukraine
Art can help children process their emotions about the war in Ukraine. Students at Brighton Adventist Academy devise signs to show support and empathy for the people of Ukraine. [Photo: Jodie Aakko]

“Don’t worry, it’s on the other side of the world.” “It doesn’t affect you.” “Don’t think about it.” Are these the best answers you can give your child when talking about the war in Ukraine? Absolutely not.

A violent war is raging at this very moment. Russia is aggressively invading Ukraine. Sirens are wailing, women and children are fleeing, teens are wearing rifles instead of backpacks, and buildings that should be bustling stand silent. What is going to happen? Will this war escalate?

This is the subject of every news source worldwide, and it is the topic of conversations everywhere. Certainly, your child is asking about this war. But how does one talk to their child about such a dreadful global event?

Children want answers. “From my experience, it’s best to summarize the war. Don’t go into detail; be very loose about it. That helped me because I know what’s happening, but I wasn’t told the gory details and about all the killing and violence,” Gregory, a seventh-grader at Brighton Adventist Academy (BAA), said.

On March 3, 2022, Brighton Adventist Academy held a joint seminar for grades six through 10. Doug Inglish, who holds a degree in Russian history and serves as Rocky Mountain Conference (RMC) vice president of administration, gave a presentation on the history of Russia and Ukraine. [Photo: Jodie Aakko]

Nathan, a fifth-grader at BAA, says he wants to know the facts. “I feel like adults should let the kids know what is going on and why it is going on. Let them know everything. This is what my parents do. That way, we can know what’s going on in the world,” he said.

Children are very concerned and worried. “I am a little bit worried about the war. I wonder if it will ever end or if it will come here or not. But Mr. Morrison, my social studies teacher, helped me to learn more about it in class and it helped me know what is going on, so that I don’t have to wonder,” another student at BAA explained.

Christopher Morrison, BAA’s social studies teacher for grades five through eight, explains how he handles the war in his classes. “I ask them, ‘What do you know about this already? What questions do you have about this?’ I even ask them, ‘Who do you think the good guys are and who [do you think] the bad guys are?’ so that they have a chance to express their opinions. I will take opportunities to input balance into the conversations and encourage my students to think about the subject critically.”

He adds, “I encourage the students to reflect on what the life of a soldier must be like. For example, I pose this scenario, ‘Did you know that a Russian soldier may not have the same mindset as their leader?’”

Morrison explains that at the middle school level and above, it is essential to urge students to evaluate and analyze information, to discuss point of view, and to identify propaganda.

“By observation of our discussions about this war, it is apparent that each student gleans a great amount of information outside the classroom about this war. Historically, this is the most public war that has taken place, because of social media. My students only need to click, and a large collection of firsthand account videos is at their fingertips. This can create questions for kids, so it is important for adults to address it,” Morrison said.

Brighton Adventist Academy students are creating posters using the hashtag Ukraine=U_____. They hope these pictures can reach Ukrainians. [Photo: Jodie Aakko]

BAA is not avoiding the subject of war in Ukraine. On March 3, 2022, the school held a joint seminar for grades six through 10. Doug Inglish, who holds a degree in Russian history and serves as Rocky Mountain Conference (RMC) vice president of administration, gave a presentation on the history of Russia and Ukraine. Students are also creating posters using the hashtag Ukraine=U_____. An example is #Ukraine=Ustrong. BAA students hope these encouraging images will reach the Ukrainian people.

Here are five tips parents can use at home when talking with children about war.

1. Explain the war to your child using child-friendly words. During the conversation, use a map, and as a bonus, watch a time-lapse video on the map of Russia and the map of Ukraine. Most likely, you recall the day in 1991 when Ukraine became an independent nation; your firsthand account of the celebration of that historic event is priceless. Children want answers, and they want information. Let them see that you are a great source for answers.

2. Maintain an open and honest channel of communication with your children. Family time is a vital and crucial activity during this worrisome season. Listen, invite questions, and ask them how they are feeling about this war. Acknowledge their emotions or worries. If children need an outlet for their fears, remind them to also draw, sketch, journal, and play outdoors. 

3. Be intentional about screening and limiting media information when children are near. Value educational and informative reports.

4. Assure children that just as you always use seat belts and helmets, you have a household emergency plan should anything happen. Remind your children that as a responsible adult, you are prepared to care for your family; therefore, they can rest assured that their safety, health, and happiness are your priority.

5. Most importantly, as a family, turn to your strong faith in God’s care and protection. Do this regularly, deliberately, and without restraint. Allow your children to witness your firm belief that, assuredly, God will care for His people. Invite family members to share a favorite Bible promise of God’s deliverance, such as, “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isa. 41:10, NIV). Spend family time daily in prayer for Ukraine and Russia. Finally, point to the soon return of Christ, when we will be face-to-face with our Creator and when the sadness and wars and strife of this world will end. “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also” (John 14:3, KJV).

“Kids will ask if World War III is a possibility, but I turn to the fact that we know God is coming to save His people. We are told that there will be wars and rumors of wars, but God’s got it. The world is in His hands. The entire world’s history has always been in His hands, and it will be till Jesus comes. God promised that He will come again, to save those who are eagerly awaiting Him. Acts 1:11 promises us, ‘This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.’ Remember, we are alive in Christ,” Morrison said.

–Jodie Aakko is head teacher at Brighton Adventist Academy in Brighton, Colorado, United States.

The original version of this story was posted by the Rocky Mountain Conference.

Jodie Aakko, Rocky Mountain Conference News