Description: When I was 7 years old (in grade 3) at around 11 am on or about October 26, 1962, there was a general announcement by our elementary school principal over the PA system that we were all to pack up and go home. I do not recall whether I had any clue as to why that was done (at the time). It turns out it was at or around the peak of what was called the Cuban missile crisis. Russia (under Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev), in support of its pledge to protect Cuba from aggression to the United States of America, had sent ships to transport nuclear missiles for installation in Cuba. President Kennedy and his administration had taken the position that nuclear missiles in Cuba would represent an unacceptable threat to the United States. Kennedy ordered a naval blockade of Cuba and stated that if the missile carrying ships did not turn around and return to Russia they would be attacked and impounded. I was not, I recall, aware of much or any of this when my younger brother and I were sent home from elementary school. When we got home, we asked my mother why we all got to go home early. She seemed “stressed” (at least as far as I as a 7-year-old could tell). She told us that the Russians and Americans were arguing about whether some serious weapons should be allowed to go to Cuba, which was an island country south of the United States and people were worried that they might fight about it rather than argue about it. I think all I asked at the time was something like “is Cuba a long way from here?” and I was told that yes, it was, and I recall spending the afternoon playing in the back yard with my brother and a couple of friends. Looking back now with my degrees and years of experience working within Developmental Psychology I can give my mother high marks for how she handled the situation. She told me, simply, what was going on, and she answered the questions I asked directly, being thoughtful to simply answer the questions asked and not adding all sorts of adult concerns about Cold War politics and the odds of, or concerns about, nuclear armageddon. I did not, later, thank my mother for her thoughtful, parental mediation of the information I needed and was provided at the time, … I should have. So, recently the Russians began an invasion of Ukraine. As adults we may have (and I have had) some difficulties sleeping as we ponder scary ideas like a re-kindling of the Cold War, the impact of millions of Ukrainian (and perhaps Russian) refugees pouring out into the world and about the possible drop in the security of the Russian nuclear arsenal. At least as adults we can, and should, discuss all of this and our concerns and worries with other adults but what about our children? Well, I take it as part of my professional ethical commitments as a developmental psychologist to find and provide the best advice on this question that I can. So, think about how you would answer this timely poignant question and then read the article linked below where several developmental psychologists (from MY previous employing university, the University of Calgary) have to suggest on this topic.
Source: How to talk to children about the invasion of Ukraine, and why those conversations are important, Nicole Racine, Camille Mori, and Sheri Madigan, The Conversation.
Date: February 28, 2022
Article Link: https://theconversation.com/how-to-talk-to-children-about-the-invasion-of-ukraine-and-why-those-conversations-are-important-177983
The article makes it clear that it is not a simple matter of deciding whether or not to talk with children about big deal global events like the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Was is important is that conversations about such events be held at developmentally appropriate levels AND that the adults involved try hard to focus on the child/adolescent’s perspectives rather that their own. I think the most important point made is that research indicates that children whose families talk about stressful world and local events cope more effectively that children whose families do not. After all, avoidance is a classic maladaptive coping style.
Questions for Discussion:
- What are some reasons that it is a good idea to talk with children about world events like the Russian invasion of Ukraine?
- What are some of the age-related developmental differences that should be considered when deciding how to talk with children or adolescents about world events like the Russian invasion of Ukraine?
- The article did not talk about this directly but what are some ways that talking (as opposed to not talking) with children or adolescents about world events like the Russian invasion of Ukraine could result in LESS use of maladaptive coping strategies?
References (Read Further):
Lepore, S. J., Ragan, J. D., & Jones, S. (2000). Talking facilitates cognitive–emotional processes of adaptation to an acute stressor. Journal of personality and social psychology, 78(3), 499. Link
Kliewer, W., Fearnow, M. D., & Walton, M. N. (1998). Dispositional, environmental, and context-specific predictors of children’s threat perceptions in everyday stressful situations. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 27(1), 83-100. Link
Lumiere (2019) What is Perspective-Taking? Empathy and Child Development. Link
Cullins, Ashley (2020) Key Strategies to Teach Children Empathy (Sorted by Age), Big Life Journal. Link
Knorr, Caroline (2019) How to Talk to Kids About Violence, Crime, and War, Common Sense Media. Link
Orlando, Joanne (2022) From ‘Vladdy daddy’ to fake TikToks: how to guide your child through Ukraine news online, The Conversation. Link
Brotherson, S. (2006). Talking to Children About Armed Conflict. Link