Teaching Children About Conflict

Teaching about the Russia-Ukraine Conflict

Talking to Pupils About the Russia-Ukraine Crisis

The Russia-Ukraine crisis has recently sparked new conversations around how we teach our children about conflict in a way which is sensitive and age-appropriate. Your youngest pupils may not be aware of this particular conflict, but certainly your ‘tweens’ will be hearing and seeing things that they may find worrying and upsetting.

Having developed a highly-acclaimed curriculum model which positions conflict as one of its four central themes, we’re going to draw on our experience and expertise to help you navigate this tricky topic.

Let’s start with some Dos and Don’ts…

  1. DO focus on facts rather than opinion. It’s vital that pupils understand the importance of truth over conjecture. This situation provides you with a great opportunity to teach your pupils more about the essential nature of reliable sources of evidence when seeking to establish the truth about the narratives they are hearing. It is crucial that pupils can spot mis-information, especially in online digital content.  
  • DO be honest. Answer questions calmly and as honestly as you can without getting over-emotional. Admit if you don’t know the answer to one of your pupils’ questions. (There isn’t always one ‘right’ answer in these situations, anyway.)
  • DO use this opportunity to develop children’s understanding of cause and consequence, which should be a fundamental focus when learning about history. The reasons why things happen in the present can often be rooted in the past, and it is important that pupils see the context of events. Causality also helps pupils see connections across time and place. 
  1. DON’T ignore children’s fears and be aware that they may be watching or listening to news broadcasts that may be disturbing to them and adding to their concerns. Allow them to talk about their worries openly, and try to get to the root of their fears. For example, if a child asks a question like “Is this the start of World War III?” it’s best to try and understand what’s underpinning the question by asking “What do you mean by that?” or “What specifically is scaring you?”. It may also be worth asking older pupils which news sources they are following and what coverage has helped them understand more about the conflict.
  • DON’T be tempted to trivialize the situation.  
  • DON’T let them doomscroll. Excessive viewing of media about the conflict on devices, particularly in the domain of social media, can result in inflated anxiety and mis-information. Encourage pupils to look at age-appropriate sites such as ‘First News’ or ‘Newsround’.

The Broader Picture

Eight out of 10 of the world’s poorest countries are suffering, or have recently suffered, from large scale violent conflict. The two World Wars and now the Russia-Ukraine conflict are only part of the story. It is important that pupils realise that understanding world history would be impossible without understanding the range of conflicts that have shaped it.

A progressive understanding of conflict across the primary phase is something we ensure schools using our ‘Learning Means the World’ Curriculum are developing. This is helping their pupils to see the Russia-Ukraine crisis through a much broader lens. They understand the types of conflict that exist, the many reasons for conflict, the difference between negative and positive conflict and how to responsibly manage conflict in their own lives.

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