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A Statement on the War in Ukraine: Support for Adoptive Families

Ukraine Statement Blog Post Image

As the war in Ukraine intensifies, Paths for Families is holding the Ukrainian people in our hearts and prayers. We are also thinking of those who live here in the United States and consider Ukraine or Russia as their homeland. As we witness the violence and devastation unfold in the news and in our social media feeds, we are acutely aware of the potential impact that these horrific events may be having on families who have adopted children from this region. The images and stories are deeply traumatic, and the suffering is palpable.

We know that children and adults who were adopted from Ukraine and Russia have a deep connection to their culture of origin. Many may be worrying about birth family who remain in their home countries, and others may be struggling with how to manage the growing anti-Russian sentiment that is being expressed in our country and throughout the world. Even for those of us who don’t have a personal connection to the region, the images of war and suffering can significantly impact our own mental health and the mental health of our loved ones.

For those supporting the ones who are hurting, we know that we can’t change the devastating consequences of the war in Ukraine. What we can do is remain attuned, aware, and available to our children, friends, and spouses as they experience the complexity of emotions being triggered by daily images of violence and terror in their homeland. We can lean into and initiate difficult conversations, answer questions and address concerns in a developmentally appropriate, direct way, validate and explore feelings and fears without judgment and minimization, and utilize our own networks of support so that we can be there for others.

Below are some resources that may be of interest, especially if you are supporting children and teens:

Talking with Children About War

Talking with Children about Ukraine



Paths for Families hosted a free Community Town Hall on Wednesday, March 16, 2023 that focused on providing families, parents, and caregivers with support and guidance as they navigate the complexities of helping their children process and understand the war in Ukraine. Our team spent time answering a few questions we received that were not able to be answered in the Town Hall. Click each question below to hear our response.

Please note that all questions below were submitted by participants in our Town Hall.

What advice do you have on managing the current situation and animosity towards Russia with existing struggles around identity and adoption among teens?

It is important that you have identified that adoption and identity issues are coming up for them. If you are a parent, the most important thing is that you don’t take this personally and that your kids are relying on the solidity of your relationship with them as they explore who they are. Allowing your child the safe space to talk through things and receive reassurance from you can be very impactful as developing self-identity is partly related to messages received from others. Holding this safe space and affirming your child’s experience may help prevent them from filling in the blanks with misinformation.

With our son who was adopted from Russia, do you think it might be a good and healthy idea to give him a completely “American” name? Obviously, it would be up to him, as he is a bit older.

Since he is older, he needs to have input and a level of control in the decision and working through the pros and cons of this may help him determine what’s best. Affirming his identity as a Russian-American, no matter what decision is made, is very important. I am curious if this is something that your son has expressed interest in already and if so, what does he think will be different if this change occurs.

Nothing has come up yet that’s been upsetting for my 13-year-old daughter. She was adopted from Saint Petersburg and I can only imagine she’s suppressing her feelings.

“Planting the seed” or “throwing pebbles” are small statements that send the message for kids to know that they can talk about things and that it is safe to come back to the topic at a later time. This can be done by making a statement such as, “What’s happening in the world right now seems like it is really hard for people.”

How do we address this with our children if they don’t talk about it, don’t want to talk about it, or they don’t outwardly seem affected by all of this?

Some kiddos are not as comfortable talking in general about their feelings, and especially when it’s about an emotional subject like the war. Also, your child may not know how they feel or may feel confused about having different feelings at different times. I would leave the door open to the discussion, letting them know that you are available if and when they want to talk and how sharing may be helpful for them. You may also want to share your feelings about the war.

What is a helpful way to bring up the subject of how she feels about what’s going on in Ukraine and support feelings that come up, especially ones that are displaced?

Begin with asking your daughter what she knows about the war and how she feels about it. If she doesn’t want to talk about it, share some of your own feelings. Share with her that you have different and complex feelings. Also, let her know how you are affected by the war: thinking about it a lot, worrying and talk to her about your strategies for managing your emotions. This approach will model that it is ok to have feelings and normalize her emotions. In terms of her displaced feelings, you may want to be curious, and empathize and clarify rather than challenging her.

How do we address the feelings of being connected to Russia without sounding loyal to the decisions of their government? Our daughter, now a young adult, has dual citizenship and quietly keeps this to herself as she now doesn’t want others to know she was adopted from Russia.

Make a distinction between the Russian government and the Russian people and explain about the totalitarian form of government in Russia. Also, empathize with the fears she has about being bullied or singled out as anti-Ukrainian. Ask what questions and comments she is most fearful about. If she is willing, role play strategies for responding. She may also want to talk with a therapist who has experience working with adoptees.

I want to help our Russian adopted children understand the difference between Putin and the Russian people. Many, many Russians oppose what Putin is doing in Ukraine. To blame all ethnic Russians for the destructive actions of Putin is not logical. When I studied in the Soviet Union in the 1970s, I discovered Russians had very friendly feelings toward Americans and America, because they distinguished between the people and their government/economic system. But in the U.S. there’s been a tendency to see all Russian people as the enemy.

This is so unhealthy and so wrong. I would share these exact thoughts with your children in a developmentally appropriate way.

How do you suggest helping young adults who were adopted from Russia process current events?

Be curious with the young adults about how they are feeling. Share your feelings. Discuss the complexities of the issues. I would explore together reliable media sources to invite more discussion. Asking what they need from you may be helpful.

My son is 12 years old and was adopted from Russia. He is asking hard questions about why this is happening and wondering if Russia is evil.

I would draw a distinction between the actions of Putin/the Russian government’s actions, and the Russian people. I would talk about the lack of freedom in Russia and focus on the fact that some of the Russian people are protesting.

What is the best way to respond when kids around them say negative things about Russian people?

Role playing and practicing appropriate responses with your child may be helpful. Empower your child to know they have control over if and how they choose to respond. Providing factual information that your child can use to respond may also be useful.

How do you suggest talking to older youth about the war? (Ages 18-24).

Continue to be curious about what they know and what they are thinking. Share factual information from a reliable source.

How do you suggest being honest about what’s going on but also not burdening the child? My daughter is 19 and we adopted her from Ukraine when she was 2. She just recently did a search and found her 1/2 sister, sister-in-law, and now knows who her dad is.

Empathize with the myriad of feelings she may be experiencing: guilt, relief, anxiety for her birth family, survivor’s guilt, betrayal, and loss. As best you can, help her to hold those feelings, without trying to problem solve and make them go away. It is important that she knows that you understand the complex feelings she is having.

My daughter (16 and adopted from Russia 12 1/2 years ago) has already been bullied by an ignorant acquaintance who told her to “stop bombing Ukraine.” This has really scared her and she didn’t even want to leave the house. Any thoughts on how to handle this (other than the normal reassurances that she will be fine)?

Empathize with how hard and scary it is to be told this. Role play the ways in which she can respond. Perhaps, more than telling her she will be fine, reassure her that her fear is understandable, and you will stand by her. Ensuring she has some coping skills such as breathing, etc. that she can use to regulate herself when in these situations may help empower to feel in control again.

What about kids that just don’t seem to care? He’s already broken down once, but still seems indifferent on a regular basis.

Give him permission to talk with you when he is ready. Realize that he is processing his feelings even when he isn’t sharing with you. Share with him your own feelings about what is going on. Don’t try to problem solve or make him feel better when he does share. “Hold” the feelings with him.

The question of new prejudice against Russian-Americans is important and I would like to hear suggestions about how to push back.

Education and countering inaccurate statements with factually accurate information. This type of behavior can be due to a lack of knowledge and understanding.

How do we let teen or young adult adoptees have their own voice and their own opinions, without influence by the adoptive parents’ feelings? In other words, they need to have their own voice as a Russian-American or Ukrainian-American adoptee. How do we support them, but not speak for them?

Great questions. Encourage their own voice by listening respectfully and acknowledging their unique way of thinking about the issues as someone who is an adoptee from that part of the world. Give them permission to have lots of mixed feelings and perhaps to change their minds as they process these events.

What practical tools can we use to apply them personally, and at the same time provide to our children to help them to cope with the emotional effects of the war in Ukraine.

I would encourage your children to express their feelings as a way to “name and tame them.” Also, provide strategies for enjoying their life in spite of the war. Encourage participation in activities, getting together with friends, being fully in school, getting out in nature. You may want to suggest that they use breathing and grounding techniques to help them cope. Perhaps suggest that it may be helpful for them to talk with a counselor about the war.

Need help to support for my teen daughter who was adopted from Kyiv October 2020. She is 17.

You may want to consult with a counselor who has worked with other children who are adopted from Ukraine.

Friends and loved ones back in Ukraine are telling our 17-year-old adopted son (and us) that America is not doing enough. Namely, closing the sky. Thoughts on how to address that?

Do some research and find some well-regarded, factual podcasts that address the issue about why the US is reluctant to close the sky.

How to address survivor guilt?

I would encourage a discussion with the child to understand more about what this means to them. It is important to listen without rushing to their rescue and telling them why they shouldn’t feel this way.

How can we help the children feel safe during this time?

It depends on how old your child is developmentally and emotionally. Find out if there is anything specific that is making them feel unsafe. It is important to reassure younger children that you will keep them safe and that there is no war in the US. Give them facts, show them a map of where Ukraine and Russia are. If the child is older, find out what they know about the war. Your assurances have to be truthful. You can discuss the fact that there is some uncertainty, but the likelihood is that the US won’t get involved in the war.

Would appreciate advice about this to reassure my now young adult children (adopted from Russia) that they won’t be treated as the Japanese living in the U.S. were after Pearl Harbor. I don’t believe this can happen, but in their mind, may be how they feel.

You can provide the facts about what prompted the unjust treatment of Japanese Americans during WWII and the differences between that situation and this one. Even if it is unlikely that they would ever be treated that way, you can empathize with their anger and fear.

Curious if anyone else shares the experience where a birth family relative is a member of the Russian army (he was forced to join) and how you are handling it?

You can discuss all the reasons why he is in the army and help your child empathize with him.

Fear of wording when contacting birth families, and not knowing how they view the invasion. Not wanting to cause any retaliation toward them or us, from our respective governments. I have two 20-year olds from Russia.

If your children have already be in touch, I would tell the families that your kids are concerned and ask them for guidance about how to communicate with them in a safe way. Advise your kids that they may not get a response.

Hearing from families that social media for their children and connecting with friends and family back in Ukraine has been difficult and having to put new limits on social media use.

It is understandable that you have put some new limits on social media use. At the same time, you may want to be curious and ask what your children are getting out of communicating on social media to determine if there are some positive aspects and to be sure that they are getting accurate information.