The other side of war
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The other side of war

19 July 2022 By Cath Chell - Director of New and Exciting Stuff at Learn Well

Three students and a teacher looking at a globe

War is a big topic for us grown-ups to understand and deal with, so it’s not surprising that we find it hard to decide what we should or shouldn’t say to young children.

When children hear adults talk about war or see updates on the news, but they don’t have the understanding or vocabulary to ask questions and learn, it can result in false assumptions, varied emotions and uncertainty.

Children will likely be feeling a whole host of emotions due to the current conflict taking place between Ukraine and Russia. So, how can you as a teacher support them?

Talk about the physical geography

Try looking at a map with children to show them where Ukraine is, how big it is and which countries touch its borders.

Ask your class if anyone has ever visited Ukraine or who has visited countries surrounding it and what do they know about the country? Discuss how many people live there and how that compares to the UK.

Explain the reasons why war takes place

Historically wars tend to be about territory, and this one is no different. To help you give a simple explanation to children: a leader decides that they want what you’ve got, and they are willing to send their soldiers to fight for it.

This simplistic starting point of war gives the perfect opportunity to talk about the mini ‘wars’ and conflicts that are a feature of home, playground, and classroom life. Mention the feelings of jealousy (‘I want what you have got’) and anger (‘I haven’t been treated fairly’). These two emotions play a huge part in conflict and war.

Let’s talk about jealousy…

Jealousy is not always an easy emotion to recognise, but it tells us what we want in life and everyone feels it sometimes. Recognising the feeling, accepting it and talking about it is essential as it’s part of being human. Many feelings of jealousy arise in the rough and tumble of family or school life. Seize the opportunity to learn about the importance of difference and sharing. What feelings come from sharing?


Here are some activities that you might like to do with the children in your class, to help build on emotional understanding and vocabulary around jealousy.

#1 Create a word wall

With the children, make a list of some of the words you might use when you are feeling jealous. For example:

  • “That’s not fair”
  • “I want…”
  • “Why can’t I?”
  • “They’ve got…”

And a list of words that describe what you feel inside? For example:

  • Knotted up
  • Wound up
  • Tight
  • Hungry inside


#2 Draw how you feel

Talk with the children about how their bodies feel when they’re jealous. What happens to their tummy, heart, breathing, hands, legs or face? Draw around one of the children to create an outline of a person, then write or draw the feelings on the body. For example, knots inside the tummy.

#3 When have you been jealous?

Ask the children about a time when they experienced jealousy. What did they want? Maybe it was just to be treated the same, or maybe they wanted to play with a friend’s toy. What did they do in the situation to express their jealousy and how did others respond to them?

Let’s talk about anger, fear and sadness…

These three emotions are also a big part of conflict and war. Each needs time and space to be recognised, accepted and talked about. Emotions tell us about ourselves and others.

We feel angry when we experience or witness injustice, are frustrated with our needs or desires or when someone crosses our boundaries. We feel this emotion when we believe we’ve been treated unfairly, or when we are physically/emotionally in pain.

We feel sad if we lose someone or something we love or experience another kind of loss.

And fear alerts us to danger.

You can repeat the three activities above for anger, fear and sadness.

Spreading hope during war Luckily, there is another side of war, a side that gives us hope.

In each photograph you see or news flash that shows the horrors of war, there is always someone helping. It could be a person holding a stranger’s hand to comfort them, doctors and nurses tending wounds or neighbours sharing what they have with each other. If we look for the kindness and love, the bravery and the loyalty, we will always find them. In the very worst of times, there is always hope. And, as Brene Brown said, “we need hope like we need air.”

Encourage children to look for the people who are helping, sharing, being kind and showing love. Create a ‘wall of wonder’ by shining a light on the goodness, the kindness, the love and the humanity. You could write poems, collect words, draw pictures, or find newspaper articles all about the good things that people are doing. Or even decide to do something positive together, like raising money for one of the charities working so hard to help those in need. This will help them to find hope; hope that one day the guns will cease firing and the war will stop.

Some of the activities and suggestions in this article are from the Little Book of Big Emotions series, which is available on the YPO website.

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Categories: Education , Early Years

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