Family & Education

How to talk to children about the conflict in Ukraine

The horror unfolding on our TV screens is affecting children


It is hard to imagine that only a few weeks ago the most important item on the news was Partygate. Today it is war.  

The sheer horror of the pictures we are all seeing and reports we are hearing are hard to contextualise. While the burden of this terrible conflict is borne by the citizens of Ukraine, the reality is that we are all suffering.  

There is a feeling of despair and helplessness as we see a campaign of evil, with echoes of the past and our questioning whether “never again” has become “yet again” as the world is seemingly standing by and allowing these atrocities to take place. 

We are also marking the second anniversary of the first lockdown from Covid, a time when we rightfully hoped to be seeing the end of the pandemic and for the world to look brighter and happier. Instead, we are struggling with darkness and despair. 

Yet again, at the forefront of this tragedy are our children and there is no question many are being severely affected by recent events. It is almost impossible to protect them from the images of destruction, the fears of global conflict and the spectre of a nuclear war. Our children feel and often magnify our fears and we must be careful to be sympathetic to their needs and support them. 

Schools are having discussions with classes and trying to reassure their students; however, as is so often the case, it is the parent or guardian that plays a critical role in supporting the child. How this is done will vary depending on the age and needs of the child, and you know your child best.  

In a recent PaJeS talk for parents, psychologist Dr Anna Colton advised on the importance of listening to your children’s concerns and reassuring them that we are safe. At younger ages this may be by showing a map and illustrating how far away we are from the conflict.

For older ages the concerns may be moralistic, such as the frightening realisation that we can have a world leader who directs such evil atrocities. These fears can lead to feelings of dissonance and even despair, as they grapple with dilemmas such as the refugee crisis or how to protect innocent civilians while navigating the danger of expanding the conflict.  

However, this can be an important learning experience, and especially for older children this is an insight into the challenges of the real world.  It is important that they appreciate that that not every person is necessarily good, that sometimes, and especially when we remain silent, evil can prevail over good, and that making the right decision can be very difficult.  

Dr Colton also stressed the importance of managing our own parental anxieties, not “doom scrolling” social media or obsessively watching the news. These behaviours fuel our fears and heighten anxiety in our children.  

We may all be feeling a level of helplessness and it is also important that we try to make a positive contribution. In the week of Purim, it is perhaps poignant to appreciate that the Fast of Esther precedes the celebrations of Purim. It is a reminder that our prayers and actions are critical in ensuring the triumph of good over evil.  

In the true Purim spirit, let us hope that through our prayers, charity, and good deeds we will see a speedy resolution to this conflict and go back to a time when the guest list at No 10 was our biggest worry. 

Rabbi David Meyer  is chief executive of PaJeS (Partnerships for Jewish Schools)

To hear Dr Colton’s talk on the war in Ukraine, go to

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