Instructions for early childhood education and care, schools and educational institutions on how to process the Ukraine crisis with children and young people
The situation in Ukraine keeps changing rapidly, and not even adults can provide answers to all the questions that children and young people may have. That being said, early childhood education and care, schools and educational institutions (hereinafter schools) can help children understand what has happened and approach the situation calmly. Children and young people should be reminded that the situation in Ukraine is exceptional and that life in Finland is safe. Our schools are well-prepared for different threats and hazards. One of the key tasks of schools during crises, including the one we are facing now, is to uphold everyday routines and ground children and young people in an ordinary and safe everyday life.
Children and young people’s reactions to events reported in the news are usually stronger the closer they feel that the events are to them. Some children and young people may be severely concerned about the well-being of the people living in crisis areas. There are also children and young people at schools who have come to Finland from war-torn areas and students who will be starting their military service soon. When planning school procedures, it is important to take into account that the Ukraine crisis has different impacts on the everyday lives of children and young people living in different parts of Finland. In Eastern Finland, the situation may also be challenging on account of the large numbers of both Russian and Ukrainian students studying there at different levels of education. In large cities, there are also large numbers of students with immigrant backgrounds. As such, schools should also prepare for potential tension between pupils and students. But whatever their nationality or native language, no child or young person should be blamed for geopolitical conflicts.
The age of the child or young person is key
Children and young people’s capacity to process a crisis and exposure to news about it varies by age. When the matter is discussed at school, it is therefore important to take the level of development of the children and young people into account. The need to discuss the matter varies between individual children and young people, and nobody should be forced to process it. At the same time, sensitivity is required to recognise the situations in which pupils express their desire to discuss the matter. If necessary, the matter can also be discussed in the contexts of multiple school subjects.
The younger the child, the more important it is to protect them from detailed reporting and upsetting images in the news. In spite of this, discussing the matter with children in early childhood education and care can sometimes be justified. It is difficult for children to understand the human suffering, war and violence shown in the news. As such, daycare centre staff should make sure not to expose children to news about the crisis by discussing the matter between adults and within the earshot of children. Children should be protected from having to recall excessive details and news images. For a young child, it is important to feel that they themself and their loved ones are safe.
School-aged children already follow the news independently via different media. They also share news with each other on social media and discuss things outside of the reach of adults. When discussing the crisis with children and young people, it is important to make sure that they are provided with factual information and answers to their questions. Schoolchildren can imagine the threats described in the news happening to them, but cannot always realistically assess the probability of the threat. Young people may ask questions like how will the situation in Ukraine affect the security of Finland, is it is safe to live in Finland and will Finland also be pulled into the war at some point. During such discussions, it is crucial to correct any misunderstandings and rumours. Special attention should also be paid at schools on children and young people’s use of social media services and content sharing.
Discussion reinforces the feeling of safety
A familiar and safe environment provides an opportunity to process views, thoughts and feelings related to the event. When discussing the Ukraine crisis with children and young people, the discussion sessions do not necessarily need to be long. You can always continue the discussion later. Discussions can cover things like where young people can find information about the crisis and events and what kind of feelings the crisis evokes in them. Receiving age-appropriate and relevant answers to the questions that they have been pondering reinforces young people’s feeling of safety.
Adults serve as role models in regard to how difficult issues and feelings should be processed, both at school and at home. Children and young people are adept at sensing the different emotional state of adults. As such, the best way for an adult to calm a child’s mind is by example and simply being present. When the adult behaves calmly, the child also feels safe. Compassion can only be learned from a compassionate adult.
Cooperation between school and home is essential
Cooperation between the school and the home is especially important during a crisis. Homes should be informed of school operating procedures regarding the matter and the fact that the Ukraine crisis will be or has been discussed at school.
Parents should be encouraged to continue the discussion with their children at home as well. It is also important to inform homes of how pupils can be supported at school with student welfare services, for example, and how homes can protect children and young people from upsetting news images and constant reporting on the matter. When it comes to media reporting about the war, adults should preferably time their news consumption so that children are not exposed to it, even accidentally. If necessary, young people’s social media use can also be restricted. In this, too, it is important for adults to set an example.
It is now especially important for schools and educational institutions to make sure that no one is excluded from the community and that everyone’s right to a safe school day is realised. In regard to this, it is also important to communicate to parents that they should not hesitate to contact the school if they have any concerns about their child’s or young person’s situation at school. This holds especially true for children, pupils and students with a Russian or Ukrainian background.
Support from the community and multidisciplinary expertise
Contemporary schools are multidisciplinary communities, the staff of which have a wide range of expertise. Right now, it is essential to closely monitor the well-being of all children and young people in their everyday environment. The various professionals at schools also have their own roles in regard to processing and operating in a crisis. The student welfare body plays a key role in planning the operating procedures of the school in situations like the Ukraine crisis as well. It is a good idea to establish among the staff how the matter will be processed in groups and classrooms and how the multidisciplinary know-how of the school, such as psychologist or school health care resources, will be utilised, where necessary.
Student welfare services include the services of psychologists and school social workers as well as school and student health care services. If teachers or other school staff have concerns about a child or young person, they are required by law to refer the child or young person to the school psychologist or social worker. Teachers should also not hesitate to contact student welfare services experts in situations where a child or young person reacts to crisis reporting in an alarming way. These professionals provide individual support to children, young people and parents and their expertise to teachers as well. If the help provided by student welfare services is insufficient for the child or young person, they are referred to support services outside of the school.