When my husband and I are racked with worry about the news, as we are with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, my kids turn to me and ask, “Why do you care so much? That war is not happening here.” When world crises erupt overseas they prefer to keep the distance as far as possible. It’s a natural defense mechanism.
As parents we want to raise responsible citizens of the world who can see what is outside of their own line of vision. We want them to become educated, develop empathy, and ultimately be able to feel a sense of agency when they see wrong.
We are the leaders of our families and the main teachers for our children. The war in Ukraine opens a door for us to teach and lead our children. Here are a few ideas of how we can help our children become educated, empathic, and take action.
Become educated: Take out a map of the world to see where Russia and Ukraine are. Share with your kids how this conflict began by drawing on your experience with the historic tension between the East and West. Share broad brushstrokes about the Cold War, (for older kids you might want to listen to the classic song, “Russian” by Sting. Add a layer of Jewish history and share with them how Hassidut was born in Ukraine and the wide network of Jewish communal and welfare programs set up there to support the community. If relevant, you may also want to share stories that connect the displacement Ukrainians are experiencing now, to your family’s stories of displacement during wartime or hardships during immigration. Call grandparents to get more details about your family’s history.
As the philosopher, George Santayana is remembered saying, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” The events taking place now are history unfolding before us. By putting today’s events in a wider context you can help your kids carry that history more responsibly.
Become more empathic and take action: When we share events that are frightening one impulse is to shield our children from the hardship of the world. You know your child the best and the right level of curated exposure to difficult topics. Help them understand that being concerned about others expands their hearts and capacity for love and care. Link that care to simple actions like:
Saying a prayer in the morning or at night for a Ukranian child their age.
Doing acts of chesed (lovingkindness) during their day and dedicating it to increasing lovingkindness in the world, especially during wartime.
For older kids:
Consider having a conversation with your pre-teen/teenager prompted by the confessional poem written in post-war Germany by Martin Niemöller, German-born Lutheran pastor and theologian that begins, “First they came for the socialists…” What lessons do they draw from the poem?
Take action by giving to an organization that has a considerable presence on the ground and the ability to effectively care for Ukrainian citizens. Here are a few links to international Jewish agencies that have a longstanding presence in Ukraine and will be there to rebuild long after this crisis subsides:
Praying for peace,
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