Talking to kids about Ukraine: Phoenix teacher addresses scary topic with facts, history

One Valley teacher we spoke with says she is incorporating information about Ukraine in her curriculum.
Published: Mar. 8, 2022 at 7:44 AM MST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) - There is new information coming out of Ukraine every minute. Some Valley teachers feel it is their time to step up and teach students about the war and address any misinformation. One Valley teacher we spoke with says she is incorporating information about Ukraine in her curriculum. She says students are coming into the classroom with questions and she felt it was her duty to address their concerns.

Katherine Thrailkill is a social studies teacher at Mountain View High School. She says her students have been fascinated with what is going on in Ukraine, wanting updates daily. “It has actually brought a lot of engagement into international relations,” Thrailkill said. “Even though I’m an American history teacher mainly, they were fascinated and wanted to learn about the world .”

Thrailkill says she has gone about it in a factual manner, showing her students a map, and going through the history of the region. “I did it in a way where I asked my students if they had questions and they all really wanted to learn about it. I think there is a fine line between alarmist behavior as a teacher [and] actually just teaching the facts,” Thrailkill. “I do think it is important to not be an alarmist and stress kids out or give them unwarranted anxiety.”

It can be an overwhelming topic, but she says it’s important to let her students know that war is scary and that it’s OK to feel scared or sad. She says it’s extremely important to talk about world issues because in some cases, it impacts us right here at home. “To deny them that knowledge of things that potentially affect our economy, gas prices, exports, these are things I think are important for students to know but I don’t think it means you have to teach it in a way that unwarrantedly causes anxiety or stress,” Thrailkill said. “I think pushing your agenda on students is different from listening to your students and informing them in a way they deserve.”

It’s also important to address any misinformation, or concerns students may have seen online or from social media. “I had a few students ask ‘Am I going to get drafted?’ or ‘Should I be worried?’ or ‘Will we have a nuclear war?’ and those are the things I shut down real fast. Not true. Our president has not said we will have boots on the ground,” Thrailkill said. “Part of teaching any content, especially historical, is that it’s history. There is going to be things that are negative and we have to learn from them. but if we don’t teach it how do we learn from it? And if it got to a point where they are mentally exhausted, or I can tell it’s harming their emotional state at school, of course, I’d cut it back.”

A psychiatrist also says it’s important to have these conversations with your kids at home. “The war may not be affecting the children directly but if they’re seeing something on the news or they’re hearing about it, they need to know it’s safe to talk to the parents and guardians about what’s worrying them,” explained Sutapa Dube, a child psychiatrist and associate professor at the University of Arizona said. “The right time is when a child expresses that they’re concerned. That is the perfect time. I wouldn’t necessarily bring it up on my own unless it’s something important to your family.”

Dube says these conversations do make the family bond stronger. She says when parents are willing to have tough conversations with children about scary things going on in the world, then kids feel more secure in asking for help with future questions.