How I’m Talking to My Kids with Special Needs About the War in Ukraine

Talking to Kids About War in Ukraine

In our increasingly connected lives, children often learn about some truly horrific things happening in our world, even when we try our hardest to shield them.  Like all parents, I certainly don’t look forward to discussing difficult topics with my kids. Unfortunately, I’ve needed to do that a few times over the last couple of years. Some of the conversations have been deeply personal to our family. Others have  been world events.  A few weeks ago, war broke out and I had to figure out how I will talk to my kids with special needs about the war in Ukraine.  

Kids always find out about what’s going on in the world.  Some of the information they hear may not be truthful nor accurate. Some are able to approach their parents with questions and others are not. Regardless of whether they are able to communicate or not, kids can tell when people around them are worried or unhappy. As parents, we have to do our best to reassure them.

This is how I’ve decided to tackle the conversation about the war in Ukraine:

  1. Minimize Exposure to the News

I’ve decided to put the news in the adult viewing category for now.  That’s because all the news channels we would normally watch pretty much cover the war all the time, both traditional and non-traditional media. For my kids, I think the less they hear about the war, the less they will worry about it.

Unfortunately, we can’t always protect children from a war and there are children in the middle of a war zone right now just like there have been in previous wars. I  was one of those kids but was fortunate to have been spared the worst of war’s horrors.

I’m just trying to minimize how much my kids hear about the war by catching most of the news on my phone or when they are not around.

I already had to do the same thing when I noticed that my older son in particular, was worried about COVID and its impact.

  1. Let Them Lead the Conversation

“Are we in World War Three?” 

That’s how the conversation about the war in Ukraine was brought up by my younger son. 

They just covered the First and Second World War in history this year. I helped him memorize In Flanders Fields, a poem written during the First World War by a Canadian soldier and doctor.  

He already knew that Canada went into the Great Wars because our friends were attacked. Was Ukraine our Friend? I then had to explain about NATO and which countries are members and why everyone wants to help Ukraine but at the same time is working very hard to make sure that we don’t have World War Three. There are many more countries who are our friends and if they are attacked, we support them in many different ways but we don’t necessarily go to war.

I sincerely hope your conversations with your kids are not as complicated as mine. I tried to be as honest as possible but at the same time not say too much that might lead him to worry.

Not all kids will go for the jugular the way mine did but if they are aware of the war and are worried about it, they will communicate it in their own way. They could be more anxious or talk about mean people, or bullies or even draw something. You know your child best and all we can do as parents is to be open when they want to talk.

3. Assure Them That They Are SafeCat G025aa6bef 640 300x300

A couple of years ago, I learned just how much events in the news affected my son’s sense of safety. A traffic accident led to loss of lives of teenage hockey players. Until that point, my son had believed that only old people died. After the tragic accident was discussed at school, he became extremely worried about his and our entire family’s possibility of dying. With a lot of conversations and guidance, we got through that period. 

I completely understand kids’ worrying about their safety and that of loved ones.

 When I was younger, I lived through a decades-long war that eventually led to the transition of Rhodesia from colonization to independence.  The adults around us never, ever discussed the war with us. We knew things were not normal, we saw the soldiers, knew too much about different weapons than kids should ever need to know. We heard their whispers and worse. Since none of the adults would talk to me, all I did was worry. I worried that something would happen to my family and my friends.  I want my kids to know that they are safe, so they don’t end up worrying, the way I did as a kid. We all need to feel safe.


  1. Give Them A Chance To HelpGirl G96d466959 640 300x200

Our kids may be young but, like all of us, they want to do their part to help. Thankfully, even though we are far away, we can all still do our part to help. During the pandemic, everyone, including children with special needs, was given the opportunity to help flatten the curve. Our kids missed school and other activities, missed family, wore masks and sanitized their hands all in an effort to help flatten the curve. This time, there is a war that everyone is talking about and we can give all kids a chance to help.

 As part of my kids’s financial education, whenever they receive or make any money, they put a percentage of it aside in the “Give” category. This is money that is meant to be spent on the people or causes they care about. Since our government is matching donations to the Canadian Red Cross, that’s the charity they decided to donate to.  They also gave their spare winter clothes to a local church that was collecting them.

With some luck and a lot of hope, I wont ever have to discuss another current war with my kids. I do know that there will be many difficult conversations to tackle over the coming years. 

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