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Talking to Your Child About World Conflicts

Talking with kids about violence and world conflict (like what's happening in the Middle East and Ukraine) can be hard, but it is important. Between what kids hear about in school, from friends, and in the news and on social media, they may be exposed to a lot of information that is deeply upsetting.

Here’s how to help them make sense of what’s going on in the world, and how to keep them away from disturbing content.

How Do I Start the Conversation?

First, learn about the politics and culture in the involved areas. Try to understand the events that triggered the conflict.

Have the talk when you can give your full attention. Start the conversation with something like, “What have you heard about what’s happening?” or “What have your friends said?” Then pause to let your kids voice their thoughts or concerns. 

Let children express what they’re feeling (like confusion, fear, sadness, or anger) without judging. So, instead of saying, “Don’t worry about it,” repeat back any concerns. You can say, “Yes, I see this makes you scared.” This helps kids feel heard. 

It's OK to say that violence upsets you too. Let your kids know that children and families being hurt or killed is hard for anyone to hear. 

How Much Should I Explain?

It’s best to be honest and explain things based on kids’ age and maturity: 

  • Early grade school: Keep things short and simple, like, “People are fighting, and some are getting hurt.” Things like visual displays may help them understand. For example, if they ask where it’s happening, you can show them on a map. End the talk by reminding them that the adults in their lives keep them safe.
  • Older kids: You can give extra information but avoid graphic details. Children this age may ask more questions, and it’s OK to answer them briefly. You don’t need to tell them more than they ask. Sometimes kids may want to read an article with you, but make sure it’s right for their age. 
  • Teens: Teens will likely know more about what’s happening and may have strong feelings. Encourage them to share by asking, “What do you think about what’s going on?” Let them lead the conversation. Then try to answer any questions they have. If you don’t know how to respond to something, explain that the issues are complex. 

Should I Limit Access to the News and Social Media?

There may be a lot of scary stories and videos online when a world conflict happens. If kids are on social media, more of these are likely to show up in their feed. For younger kids, you can block certain apps and websites. For older children, talk about it with them and try these tips: 

  • Set limits. You can talk about how tempting it can be to go online, but explain that some photos and videos may be very upsetting, even for adults. So tell your kids that you don't want them to have around-the-clock access. This means setting ground rules on what apps they can use and limiting time on social media. Consider installing an app to monitor screen time and know what your child is seeing.  
  • Talk about sharing. Kids may feel better posting something online, but it could be hurtful to others and even dangerous. Explain that videos, images, and websites can cause strong reactions in people who are affected by what’s happening. Ask your children not to share anything related to violence. If they want to post or repost something about a conflict that’s not related to violence, they should go to you first.  
  • Keep checking in. Remind your kids that you’re there to support and protect them. If they see something upsetting, you want to hear about it and make sure they’re OK. When you notice them watching something, ask if they’d like to chat about it with you. If kids want to stay informed, encourage them to follow accounts that you know provide accurate information. 
  • Pick good news. To give kids a break from everything that’s going on, bookmark sites where they can find good news that's right for their age. 

How Else Can I Help My Child?

Offer to keep the conversation going. Let your child know that you’re always open to talking more. Just being present is a huge part of supporting kids during hard times. Being consistent and caring helps them feel protected.

Suggest ways your kids can help people they know who might be affected by violence happening somewhere else in the world. Say that offering kindness and letting friends know you care is a good first step.

Talk about what your family can do to help people affected by violence, like collecting supplies or holding a bake sale fundraiser. Look for news stories that highlight what other people are doing. Seeing positive news and focusing on helping can help kids — and adults — feel better able to cope.

Reviewed by: Meghan T. Walls, PsyD
Date Reviewed: Oct 13, 2023

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