Tips for Talking to Children About War and Terrorism

By Kelly Jirsa

Child having discussion with her father
How do we talk with our children about the recent traumatic events affecting the world when we battle to comprehend the horror ourselves?

In a world with unprecedented access and exposure to media, seeing images and stories from the unfolding situation in Ukraine and the Middle East can be very scary and stressful for children. Addressing children’s fears and concerns about these events is necessary to help them cope, but how do we do this without causing elevated anxiety and depression?

Everyone in your family including your children will likely have different ways of dealing with fear and grief.

Things to consider about your child’s age group:

Pre-school and toddlers

Very young children can confuse the facts with their imagination and become overwhelmed, unable to sort distant from immediate threat, therefore it’s best to avoid exposure to news for this age group.

School-age children

This age group are able to understand the differences between real events and fantasy, however may need some help with managing this, they may see the rebroadcasting of the original story as further events. They may also confuse the immediacy of the images as being representative of the closeness of the conflict.


May be interested in the politics of the events and feel they are required to take action or become involved in charitable activity. They may become reflective and relate the events to their own lives or re-examine their lives and interests. Conversely they may become immune to the repetitive nature of the reporting on the events.

How can I tell what my child might need?

It’s not always possible to read what your child is feeling and thinking. It’s important to recognise that your child may not want to talk about how they are feeling right away.

Clues that may arise to let you know your child is in distress are: regressive behaviour (reverting to younger behaviour), nightmares, and an excessive interest in violence.

“Contrary to parents’ fears, talking about violent acts will not increase a child’s fear. Having children keep scared feelings to themselves is more damaging than open discussion.”

Robin F. Goodman, Ph.D, NYU Child Study Center

How do I start a conversation?

You may like to start by asking your child or children what they have heard or seen and if they have any questions. It’s important to avoid going into detail about the issue until you understand what their key concerns and fears are.

Discussions with older children may offer opportunities to talk about cultural differences, qualities of tolerance and compassion, non-violent solutions and how these may relate to issues in everyday life. Be sure to pay attention to non-verbal cues like facial expressions and body language this can help you with knowing how much or little information they can cope with at any given time.

Follow the lead of your child; consider your child’s age group and temperament.

Find out what information has been given at school, so you are able to coordinate messaging. Their teacher may also be aware of what, if any, are your child’s concerns.

Fred Rogers quoteFocus on Hope

Perhaps your family can talk about the actions of aid workers and emergency services in these traumatic events. You may also like to discuss ways of supporting relief efforts in effected areas or becoming involved in your local community.

Remember, “If you feel you haven’t gotten it right the first time, give yourself a break and try again later.”

Harold S. Koplewicz, MD, Child Mind Institute


For further assistance you can contact Kids Helpline, a free, 24 hour counselling service for young people aged 5-25 years. Counselling is offered by phone, email and over the web.



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