21 June 2022

Fear of causing anxiety is preventing parents from talking to their children about refugees

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New Research: Over half (51%) of UK parents with school aged children fear talking to their children about refugees and the impact of conflict and persecution will make their child anxious.


Despite 65% of parents believing it's important to have conversations with their children about refugees, more than two fifths (43%) admit they themselves feel worried speaking to their kids about the subject. This is according to new research from the British Red Cross.


The ongoing conflict in Ukraine has created one of the biggest and fastest influx of refugees that Europe has ever seen, triggering a wave of public support for refugees* but also an unsettling feeling amongst parents on how to talk to their children about it.


A fear of not knowing enough (43%) or saying the wrong thing (44%) is why many parents of children with school aged children worry, revealed the new polling commissioned by the charity to coincide with Refugee Week.


Nearly two thirds (61%) of parents surveyed feel events in Ukraine have brought the idea of refugees much closer to home. Over half (53%) of them would appreciate advice on how to speak to their children about refugees, with a large proportion of parents

(54%) stating they would appreciate guidance on how to talk to their children about the conflict in Ukraine in particular.


This is highlighted in the research with half of parents having spoken to their school-aged children about the conflict in Ukraine (50%) and almost 40% revealing they had spoken to their children about refugees from the country.


Claire Russell, a birth worker from Surrey and mother of 3 children said:

“It’s difficult knowing where to start these conversations with my children, especially when it’s something that worries me as a parent.


When it comes to discussing the war in Ukrainian and refugees with my eldest son it was helpful to know there had been some education at school.”


Ben Caswell, a plumber from London and dad of 3 boys says:


“I find it hard to know how to approach the war in Ukraine and the plight of refugees with my kids.


"They are still young and I don’t want to make them anxious or worried but equally I know it’s important they are aware of what could be going on for some of their school friends’ families.


"I’d love some more guidance on it to be honest.”


And it’s not just causing concern at home but in the classroom too. Further research carried out by the British Red Cross also shows that primary school teachers are worried about the impact conversations about conflict and refugees will have on their

pupils’ mental health and wellbeing:


  • Over half (57%) of primary school teachers surveyed worry that talking to pupils about refugees and the impact of conflict and persecution would make children in their class feel anxious, with over a third (37%) saying they don’t feel well equipped to talk about it.
  • Most (83%) primary school teachers in the survey have seen an increase in questions about refugees from pupils in the last year, for a third of them this is a big increase.

Flora Lawrenson, a teacher from Fircroft Primary School, says:


“Understanding the devastating experiences faced by millions of refugees can often be difficult for children in my class to understand because it's so different to their world.


"When having discussions about refugees and their experiences, it definitely requires the

right structure, because it can be like opening a can of worms.”


Rolling news and social media mean that children are more aware of what’s going on than ever before.


To help teachers and parents struggling to talk to young people about migration and displacement, The British Red Cross has created an online toolkit which includes age-appropriate activities for adults to do with children, to help approach this subject.


Alex Fraser, Director of Refugee Support and Restoring Family Links, British Red Cross said:


“Dedicating time to talk to young people can help ease their worries, build empathy for others and help create a safe space to learn about what is a very unsettling time for everyone.


"Every day we are hearing from and supporting people, just like you and me, who have been forced to make treacherous journeys and leave their country due to war and persecution, chronic hunger, or extreme weather disasters.


"It is vital to keep shining a spotlight on the importance of making Britian a place that is kind and compassionate to people who seek refuge here and ensure our next generation grow up with human kindness at the heart of everything they do”




Note to editors


For over 150 years, the British Red Cross has helped people in crisis, whoever and wherever they are.


We are part of a global voluntary network, responding to conflicts, natural disasters and individual emergencies. We enable vulnerable people in the UK and abroad to prepare for and withstand emergencies in their own communities. And when the crisis is over, we help them recover and move on with their lives.



British Red Cross commissioned Opinium Research to carry out an online survey of 4,000 UK Adults, of which 701 are parents with school aged children aged between 5-12 years old, from 10 to 14 June 2022. Results have been weighted to nationally representative criteria.


The charity also commissioned Schoolzone to carry out an online survey of 200 UK primary school teachers aged 18+ on 13 June 2022.


* Online survey of 4,007 nationally representative UK adults aged 18+ carried out by

Opinium for the British Red Cross between 4 March and 8 March 2022.