17:20 PM

How to talk with your children about the crisis in Ukraine


Kids are aware of it and that may be affecting their mental health

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – and the ongoing escalation and mounting casualties – is not taking place in isolation.

It’s right there for all to see – on TV and online newsrooms, and throughout every form of social media. That means your children have a front-row seat to scenes of devastation, and heartbreaking images of casualties and desperate citizens (including children who may be their age) striving to flee the tumult.

For many kids, this is probably their first in-real-time experience with an event like this, unless they had a family member serving in Afghanistan or Iraq. Even if they aren’t talking about it openly, they are likely upset or confused about the situation, and may be fearful that the war could even be headed to their neighborhood or home.

To help children process this barrage of information and images, and answer the many questions they undoubtedly have, parents need to be proactive in giving their kids the information and tools to cope with this crisis.

Here are some helpful tips on defusing war-driven stress from Jeffrey S. Aronowitz, D.O., MBA, a child and adolescent psychiatrist and medical director for Horizon:  

Urge openness. 

Encourage your children to talk about their feelings, and take the time to actively listen and respond, with no distractions from work or electronic devices. According to Dr. Aronowitz,  “Open, honest, fact-based dialogue should help them better understand the situation and alleviate their fears.”

Acknowledge and address their concerns. 

Younger children especially may have some fundamental questions about the crisis, perhaps even something as simple as “What is a war?” Simple, straightforward answers to their questions work best; don’t burden them with information overload. And be mindful that your discussion is age-appropriate.

“Parents can sometimes go into too much detail,” adds Dr. Aronowitz. “Remember that younger children, especially, can be overwhelmed by too much information.”

Help them help others. 

Your kids may be moved to want to help Ukrainians in some tangible and personal way, and you can foster those efforts. Several organizations are on the ground in Ukraine, or supplying much-needed aid from afar, and many focus on the needs of Ukrainian children. Consider making a donation on your child’s behalf (or using some of their allowance money or piggybank savings, which can further their personal involvement).

Many organizations are actively supporting Ukrainian children in crisis, but scammers are seizing on this opportunity, too. Visit this Better Business Bureau website for tips on finding legitimate and impactful charities focused on Ukrainian relief. Also,  to show your kids that philanthropy is important anytime and anywhere, you could also help your child collect clothes and toys to donate to children in need in your own community. Some verified charities that Horizon employees are supporting include the World Central Kitchen, Direct Relief, Doctors Without Borders and United Help Ukraine.

Seek help, if needed

For some children, like those whose own family members are soldiers on active duty somewhere, the crisis may be overwhelming. Don’t hesitate to seek advice or treatment from your pediatrician or a mental health professional trained to serve children.

“With early intervention and treatment, children can overcome anxiety, depression and other conditions that affect their mental health,” says Dr. Aronowitz, who noted that tantrums, sudden decline in school performance, anxiety and depression are among the warning signs that indicate more help is needed.

War rarely lasts forever, but the mental and emotional effects of it can. By being proactive, parents may be able to instill a healthy attitude and coping mechanisms for their children that can last a lifetime.

For more information about children and mental health, visit Horizon Behavioral Health.