How to talk to children about conflict and war

17th March 2022

When conflict and war are featured in the news on a daily basis, it is unsettling for everyone, but particularly so for children.  Young people often react with fear and confusion as they try to make sense of what is happening in the world around them.

The current conflict with the Russian invasion of Ukraine has been at the forefront of current news worldwide. Seeing such stories circulate can naturally lead children to bring up questions and their worries about what they’ve seen or heard. As adults, we can often find these conversations difficult for fear of distressing a child further and sometimes we feel the need to protect them from issues or stories that even we may find challenging to think about. However, it is important to allow children the space to discuss their feelings.

Below are some tips on navigating difficult topics like this with a child, enabling you to be supportive and understanding of any worries they may have.

  • Check in to see what they know and how they feel about it.

    Children discover the news in many different ways including at school and from friends.  Every child will have a different response to what they’re seeing or hearing; some may be noticeably upset and voice their worries, while others may be curious and want to know more about what is happening to help them process and understand it.  Following their lead in the conversation can help establish those boundaries and allow you to support the discussion appropriately.

  • Tailor the conversation to their age.

    Children of all ages may see and experience distressing news, or hear stories, and how you discuss that with them differs based on their age. For example, for a very young child, keeping terms simple and brief will help their understanding of the world, whereas an older child may look at the history and background of current events.

  • Recommend child-focused news channels.

    If a child wants to find out more, use child-friendly news. There are several news websites tailored specifically to children, including CBBC Newsround, which offers short, age-appropriate, articles written in an easily digestible way and doesn’t include graphic content.

  • Allow space for questions and be honest if you don’t know.

    When discussing difficult topics, it can be tempting to avoid questions or bend the truth for fear of causing further distress. It will be of more help to be as honest as possible. It is also okay if you do not know the answer, and if a child is interested, you could investigate finding the answer together.

  • Reassure and let them know it is normal to be concerned.

    All children want to know that they are safe and look to adults for that reassurance. The best way to support this can be by acknowledging everyone can feel worried, even you, and to discuss distressing topics openly and honestly.

  • Focus on the positive.

    It is important for a child to know that people are helping each other, and that there is hope and kindness in the middle of conflict.  Share positive stories with them where possible.  See if the child would like to do something to help, participate in a local fundraiser or join a petition.  The sense of doing something, even something small, can often bring great comfort to a child.

Here at Doorstep Library we know that books are a great way of helping us talk about things.  It can be really helpful for children to read stories which touch on difficult topics, helping them to work through their feelings.

Last month we shared a blog for Children’s Mental Health Awareness Week with a number of fantastic book titles that can help children to deal with feelings of anxiety, stress or depression.

Here we offer some additional children’s book titles, focusing specifically on the topic of war and conflict, that can help support your discussions.

We have also listed some helpful news channels below, some free and some paid for, which might be useful.

Books by age range

3-5 years-old

  • Lubna and Pebble by Wendy Meddour, 2019 Recommended ages: 3+ Lubna’s best friend is a pebble. She found it on the beach when they arrived in the night. Lubna tells Pebble everything. About home. About her brothers. About the war. An important story about the power of friendship that subtly addresses the refugee crisis. EAN/ISBN13: 9780525554165
  • The Suitcase by Chris Naylor-Ballesteros, 2019 Recommended ages: 4+ When a strange-looking animal arrives pulling a big suitcase, the other animals are curious. What on earth could be inside that suitcase? A teacup? Maybe. A table and chair? Perhaps. A whole home and hillside with trees? This stranger must be fibbing! But when the animals break into the suitcase and discover a very special photograph, they begin to understand what the strange creature has been through, and together they create a very special welcome present. EAN/ISBN13: 9781788004480
  • My Name Is Not Refugee by Kate Milner, 2017 Recommended ages: 5+ Clear, moving illustrations complement this simple, touching book that explains the refugee crisis in an accessible way. A young boy discusses the journey he is about to make with his mother. They will leave their town, she explains, and it will be sad but also a little bit exciting. A moving exploration that draws the young reader into each stage of the journey, inviting the chance to imagine the decisions they would make. EAN/ISBN13: 9781911370062

6-7 years old

  • The Day War Came by Nicola Davies, 2019 Recommended ages: 6+ One day, a little girl goes to school, unaware that while she is there, her school will be bombed, and her town turned to rubble. Frightened, she runs away: down roads and over fields and mountains, in buses and on a boat that almost sinks, until she reaches a new country. An emotive picture book that explains the displacement of people, and especially children, in war, and the trauma experienced by people forced to leave their homes. EAN/ISBN13: 9781406382938
  • Tomorrow by Nadine Kaadan, 2019 Recommended ages: 6+. Yazan no longer goes to the park to play, and he no longer sees his friend who lives next door. Everything around him is changing. A touching story about a little boy trapped in his house in Syria because it’s too dangerous outside. This simple picture book effectively reveals what daily life is like for children living in a war zone. EAN/ISBN13: 9781911373445
  • The Journey by Francesca Sanna, 2016 Recommended ages:  7+ Set in an unspecified time and place, The Journey is told through the eyes of a child as the family make their way in search of a new home, encountering things both wonderous and scary. Filled with strikingly beautiful illustrations, it tells a journey of both hope and fear, darkness and light. EAN/ISBN13: 9781909263994

9+ years-old

  • On The Move: Poems About Migration by Michael Rosen, 2020 Recommended ages: 9+ This emotive poetry anthology from former Children’s Laureate, Michael Rosen, is divided into four sections, each exploring a different aspect of migration – enhanced by timeless pen and ink drawings from fellow former Children’s Laureate, Quentin Blake. For readers who wish to further explore the issues raised, there are suggestions of organisations which support refugees at the end of the book. EAN/ISBN13: 9781406393705
  • The Boy at The Back of The Class by Onjali Q. Raúf, 2018 Recommended ages: 9+ This is the story about how one ordinary nine-year-old child and three classmates are full of empathy for Ahmet, a boy that comes to their school as a refugee from Syria. An inspiring tale that will help children think about what it is to be a good person whatever your circumstances. EAN/ISBN13: 9781510105010