Talking To Your Kids About Ukraine-Russia Conflict

Author: News Bureau
Posted: Wednesday, March 2, 2022 12:00 AM
Categories: School of Education and Behavioral Sciences | Faculty/Staff | Pressroom

Macon, GA


Today, American children and teens have access to more news and information than ever. So when the headlines are scary, as they are with the Russia-Ukraine conflict, what should parents and caregivers do to help their kids?

We asked Kelisa Underwood, lecturer of social work at Middle Georgia State University, to share some thoughts.

“We live in a world of exponential technological advancement. Daily innovations have practically become a way of life. But as many parents know, our children have access to significantly more information than we could have ever imagined at their age. While this information can be an incredible tool for education and socialization, it also leaves children exposed to a tidal wave of material that is near impossible to filter or manage. It is understandable for parents to want to protect our children from the horrors of the world, but unfortunately that is becoming increasingly more difficult. Take the current Ukraine-Russia conflict. With incoming notifications on smart devices and computers at school, in some cases, our kids may be getting more updates than we are. So what can we do?

“Let me be clear: there is no one correct formula for parenting in this insanely complicated modern society! Many of us are doing the best we can with the best we’ve got – and so are our children. They now have the information but they do not have the capacity to process that information. Whether your child is a toddler or a teenager, social technology is an integral part of their development. This means that they are exposed to the complexities of the world well before they have the mental or emotional abilities to fully understand what they are seeing. But there are some things that you can do or say to help discuss difficult topics with your children.

“First, meet your child on their level.  Strive to help your children make sense of the noise and confusion. If you’re speaking with a toddler, try to oversimplify your ideas. With my children, we’ve had a lot of Paw Patrol metaphors, stuffed animal role plays, and coloring sessions. They may not yet understand the language used to describe conflict but they do understand the idea. They can also draw or act out their feelings. As your children get older, their abilities to understand and articulate will also mature. You may be able to graduate to Marvel or DC superhero metaphors paired with discussing or writing about feelings. Either way, try to pay attention to whether or not your child is able to engage and share. You might realize that you need to break it down some more or see that they’re more mature than you thought.

“Secondly, don’t ignore or dismiss your child’s concerns. Often, we find it is much easier to brush our kids off than it is to fully engage. But in situations like this try and find the time to have these hard conversations. If you don’t have the conversations with them, someone else will! And, thanks to modern technology, that someone could be any random person across the globe. Show your kids that you are responsive when they express questions or concerns. Be open to what they have to say. Don’t pressure yourself to have the 'right' response. Sometimes all children need is for someone to listen.

“Third, be reassuring but realistic. As parents we have a tendency to want to sugarcoat situations. We do this to protect our children, but sometimes it can backfire. When we manipulate the truth our kids often interpret that as manipulating them. Share the facts, ask them if they have any questions. But don’t lie or make false promises. You can’t say that they don’t have to worry about our country ever going to war but you can say that you will do everything in your power to protect them.

“Finally, take care of yourself. Our children are experiencing historically higher levels of stress than previous generations. So are we! Taking care of our children also means taking care of ourselves. You cannot pour from an empty cup. Our kids need our grace and forgiveness but we also deserve to extend that same grace to ourselves. These can be terrifying times and you are allowed to feel or express that terror. Find a support system that will hear your concerns. As with our children, sometimes all we need is for someone to listen.”


Kelisa Underwood, mother of two, is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, with licenses in both Georgia and Florida. She has a very diverse occupational background with experience in the fields of child welfare, private practice, non-profit management, residential treatment, and health care. She taught in the Department of Liberal Arts at Mercer University before joining the faculty at MGA. Underwood earned her bachelor’s in psychology from Western Carolina University and her master’s in social work from the University of Southern California. She is finishing her PhD from Saybrook University. Her primary areas of interest are focused on institutionalized oppression and discrimination.