How to talk to your students about conflict

The devastating crisis between Ukraine and Russia currently has the attention of the world. It has sparked challenging questions about conflict, war and refugees in Ukraine and beyond.


Given the complex and hard-hitting impact of the crisis, you may be finding it difficult to know how to approach discussions about the conflict with your students, or struggle to know how to best answer their questions.


At Yes Futures, we believe it’s important to keep young people educated on current events, as well as offer them a support system in times of crisis.


Below, we share five tips and resources to support you to have these difficult discussions with your students, based on our experience working with young people.


1) Provide your students with credible resources to learn about current events.


Today, young people have access to the news and media at their fingertips. This constant influx of information can cause feelings of uncertainty and anxiety. But worryingly, only 2% of children and young people have the critical literacy skills they need to judge whether a news story is real or false (UNICEF, 2018).


Given our knowledge about false news, it is important to give students accurate information about current events. One way to do this is playing a short video at the beginning of form time once a week, from a credible source discussing the world’s current events.


Try using these credible, child friendly news sources to start these conversations with your students. You can also talk about how to look out for false news, supporting students to develop their own critical thinking skills.


While it’s important to give students accurate information on current events, it’s important to encourage them to take regular breaks from the news, to protect their mental wellbeing. You could also spend one form time a week focusing on activities to boost your students’ mental health, to highlight the importance of protecting their wellbeing.


2. Give students a safe space to open up and talk

Remind students that they can talk to you one-to-one if they are worried, or want to discuss how they are feeling.

For many students, school might be the place where they feel the most comfortable to open up and talk about their feelings. It is vital to provide each student with a safe space to discuss how they are feeling with the current state of the world.


You could dedicate one form time a week to discussing the conflict and other current events, to give students a space to voice any concerns they have. This could begin as a whole-group discussion, before splitting into smaller groups.


It’s important to remember that some students may not feel comfortable sharing their feelings or asking difficult questions in a group setting. Remind students that you are available to speak to them one-to-one, or encourage them to speak to a school counsellor, if you have one.


You could also try putting a box at the front of the classroom for students to anonymously submit questions, for you to address in your next whole-class discussion.


3. Ask open-ended questions and be engaged


By asking students open-ended questions, you show them that you are genuinely interested and care about what they think, meaning that they are more likely to share their true thoughts and feelings with you.


When asking open questions, it’s important to actively listen to your students too. Don’t be afraid to sit in silence if they don’t answer your questions immediately - it may be that they need some extra time to work through their thoughts.


Some open-ended questions you could try asking your students include:

  • What are you concerned about?

  • How do you feel about X?

  • Tell me more about that.

  • How can I best support you?

4. Offer your students opportunities to help


It is common to feel a sense of guilt and helplessness when hearing about conflicts and issues around the world. Something that can combat these feelings, is to help out the cause.


The British Red Cross is a great organisation to find opportunities to help those in need, while this article by The I shares a list of organisations in the UK that are supporting Ukrainians affected by the war.


We know that sadly Ukraine isn’t the only country suffering at the moment. The UN Refugee Agency support refugees fleeing Ukraine, and other places of conflict.


5. Shed light on the positive events


While it is very important to keep young people educated on current events, it’s also important to highlight the good things going on in the world.


This article shares some sources of positive and uplifting news from around the world, while our weekly positive newsletter shares a round up of positive news and resources from the education sector.


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