PHOENIX — The images coming out of Ukraine are hard for anyone to avoid – even young children who may not fully grasp why Ukrainian families are leaving their homes for safety.
Although he left his home country when he was just six years old, Ryan Young of Phoenix has been overwhelmed with the news coming out of the country where he was born.
“I was born into an extreme poverty family,” said Young.
The first years of his life were spent in a Ukrainian orphanage until he was adopted by a single mother here in the United States. At the time, it was a dream come true for Young.
His new family was able to bring him a better life in Illinois, then California, and eventually he found a home here in Arizona.
Young says violence at home landed Young in foster care at 16 until he aged out two years later.
The adversity he faced in his late teens didn’t keep him from pursuing a degree in political science at Phoenix College where he’s currently studying.
The now 20-year-old is an activist who has recently hosted rallies in support of friends and family in his war-torn home country.
“It’s very heartbreaking and very devastating,” he said. “Just knowing I could do more, but I can’t.”
Once in the Arizona foster care system himself, Young now works with Valley foster kids and holds a leadership role to help him make extra money and give back to the community.
Some have asked for his perspective on what’s happening in Ukraine. He says he tells the young ones – Russia is being a bully to Ukraine which is a country looking for peace and independence.
“I tell them that all of this news is very devastating and that if they do need support, I’m always there for them,” he said.
When explaining what’s happening in Ukraine to someone 10 years old or younger, Dr. Abby Atkins says one of the most important things a parent can do is to “be present for their child and try not to fix” the problems.
She suggests monitoring what their kids are watching.
Explain on a map that Ukraine is over 6,300 miles away from Arizona.
And watch how their child is playing. That could be an expression of how they’re feeling.
“If they’ve seen somebody hurt, they may play-act like playing the role of a doctor,” said Dr. Atkins.
Atkins suggests focusing on what makes a child feel good about themselves.
A way a child can help could be to donate a toy to a refugee who may now be here in Arizona.
“So the child feels like they’ve helped somebody else that’s hurting more than they are,” she said.
Arizona State University has a recent Q&A with ways to start the conversation with kids. The tips vary with a child’s age. The common factor is listening and asking questions.