“Mummy, there’s bad news about Ukraine.” Supporting children with world events: Blog of a parent & teacher

by Amber Demetrius, WCIA Global Learning Coordinator (view team page)

‘I Stand for Ukraine’ by Clem Demetrius

Mummy we’re watching the news and there’s bad news about the Ukraine…leave us a message and love you!

This was the most recent voicemail I’d received from my daughter (age 6). Upon hearing it, I immediately checked the news, established that things were more or less as they had been an hour before, and rang her back. Our discussion centred less around the events in the Ukraine and more around whether or not I’d be home for bedtime. I was profoundly relieved that this was the case.

As parents and teachers, it is a relief to move away from the topic of world events. World events often involve complicated histories, a present that involves a network of intricate politics, not to mention a future that can seem bereft of hope. It’s hard to introduce children to these concepts when we don’t fully grasp the facts ourselves and it’s understandable that we would want to shelter them from the harsh realities of the wider world. As a parent, it’s easy to want to protect innocence and as a teacher, it feels pertinent to avoid a lesson where you might offend someone in your community.

The problem with this approach is that our children are already “out there”. They are dealing with racism in their communities, with globalization in their day to day lives. My daughter frequently suggests we “ask google” to tell us more about the news because she understands there is a wealth of information at our fingertips: my job now is to teach her how to evaluate it from a grounded and safe space. (If you would like to know more about information sources online, our free online course in Ethical Citizenship covers aspects of digital literacy and critical thinking, and can be accessed at Ethical informed citizens of Wales and the world – Welsh Centre for International Affairs. It’s not to say I’m suggesting we show our young people the full violence of warfare. However, when we pretend world events are not happening, we leave our children to imagine the worst, to develop extreme opinions, and to live in fear.

Our children are finding out for themselves and listening to their peers, parents and teachers talking about the news. They are making their own sense of world events. If we shy away for fear of offending, we do a disservice to them and us. For them, we assume they are incapable of understanding and we are sending them a message that politics and citizenship is not “for them”. For us, we deprive the world of the ethical, informed citizens we are hoping to create and we rob our society of the help they might give us.

Talking about world events

 That is not to say that talking about major events is an easy task but with that in mind, having reflected on my experiences recently with Educators and Citizenship practitioners, I came up with the following as my top tips for teachers and parents:

Children discussing Global Peace issues at the Urdd Eisteddfod – view their Peace Mural

1. Get comfortable with not knowing everything: you know your audience and that is enough!

One thing I hated as a teacher was covering topics that I wasn’t certain about. When it comes to Global Events, we often feel that we don’t have as much knowledge as we would like. However, the key aspect to remember is you are opening the conversation, not establishing yourself as an expert. Good practice can be recording questions that you can’t answer on paper, as well as any ideas you’d like to explore. Great practice is thinking of something you can liken the problem to and building evidence and research from that position with your young person. It’s also brilliant for young people to experience the process of researching with a safe adult.

Good sources of information both for you and your young person can typically be found on established news services for children (BBC/Newsround is a good example). You can also find excellent resources from a variety of relevant charities and the Welsh Government sites. My tip is if you’re not sure something’s true: don’t share it.

2. Whatever you present, get both sides of the story

A key aspect of current affairs is that they tend to be polarizing. We’re either pro migration or against it, pro Ukraine or pro Russia. Supporting young people to understand there are two sides to each story is key in developing empathy and understanding that the   truth often encompasses many different perspectives. In the example given above, for example, there are many people in Russia who do not support Putin’s vision. Equally, there are some people in the Ukraine who do not support Zelensky. Guidance on how to hold rich discussion can be found here Home | Association for Citizenship Teaching (teachingcitizenship.org.uk) and you can click here to access our free online training in making and defending arguments Debate training – Welsh Centre for International Affairs (wcia.org.uk)

3. Everyone can have an opinion but extreme opinions must always be challenged

Similar to tip two but so important I’m tackling it twice! The goal of opening up on the world of global affairs is to help young people develop the knowledge, skills and attitudes to respond to the 21st Century world in a kind and just manner. For that reason, any opinions that are extreme (refuse to see the other’s point of view) must be exposed and explored, and challenged where necessary. This means creating a safe space for opinions (many of which “slip into” our consciousness) and gently probing with thoughtful questions in order to get to the truth. A great tool for exploring opinions with larger groups can be found here Search – toolkit.risc.org.uk. Oxfam also produced an excellent breakdown of expected skills, knowledge and values for Global citizens which can be found here along with their guide for teachers on how to teach controversial issues: Global citizenship guides | Oxfam GB

4. Always end with what you can do to help

The most difficult part of speaking about world events is the feeling that one is presenting a bleak picture with no potential for change. However, as the what matters statement says: “our world is diverse and dynamic, influenced by processes and human actions…”. The sooner we teach people to act on their beliefs, the more empowered we will find people becoming. Below is a list (certainly not comprehensive) of actions you can take:

  • Write to your local Member of the Senedd (MS) or MP. If you’re unsure who this is, the following website gives a great breakdown of Welsh democracy and is written by young people for young people The Democracy Box – Omidaze
  • Find local charities who are working to support the effort and do something to support them. This might be clothes donations, bake sales, sponsored events etc. In the case of Ukraine/Russia, some of the many charities working to support are below:

Ukraine crisis: donate now to protect children – Unicef UK

Donate To Ukraine | Save The Children (support-savethechildren.org)

Ukraine Crisis Appeal | British Red Cross

WCIA has designed a full session plan on how to make change happen which can be downloaded for teachers here: Changemakers – Welsh Centre for International Affairs (wcia.org.uk)

  • Use the power of social media. There have been comments in Ukraine/Russia conflict that so much has been communicated through social media including the use of google maps, twitter, TikTok and so on. For younger viewers, you will need an adult to help
  • Have reflective conversations

Do this with your friends, family and neighbours. The more we support young people in understanding world events, the more we stop these events from taking place in the future.

When I spoke to my daughter, what I told her about the Ukraine is what I believe to be true.I reminded her that each young generation is proving itself cleverer than its predecessors (The Flynn effect Flynn effect – Wikipedia). I said that we are part of a species that has overcome every obstacle that was put before us, including in recent years a global pandemic. If we are capable of achieving so much, we are capable of supporting our communities in tackling this too.

 “It’s a tricky problem – but the whole world is working on it.”