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Some time ago, I met my lovely friend for a drink, straight off the train from London. She told me about a very intense performance review she had at work recently, which, although scary, was incredibly useful; it gave her a general sense of how she was doing and areas to work on.

And it struck me we don't get this feedback as parents. Am I doing a good job? I have no idea.

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How much should they know about a war going on right now?

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I've always talked openly to the boys about most things; it wasn't a conscious decision so much as an instinctive one.

When they got to the age where they could ask questions, I started answering as honestly as I could whilst keeping their age and level of understanding in mind.

So when Frank asks me about soldiers and battles when we visit castle ruins, or when Bill finds a tampon and asks me what it is, or if they ask me if I believe in God – I answer honestly and simply omit a few details that they probably aren't ready for yet.

I didn't need to bring up the Russian invasion of Ukraine; they have heard about it on the radio, they've overheard grown-ups talking, and as all parents can attest – children's minds are sponge-like, and they are way more aware than we give them credit for.

Bill is three and Frank five. So what should they know, or not know, about a war happening right now?

Bill asked me out of the blue if Weymouth was in Ukraine, possibly, I think, because we have family who lives there. And when we drive over, it seems like a long drive for him, enough for a three-year-old to consider that it may be in a different country.

I assured him it was not and that Ukraine was much further away.

I asked him if he had any more questions and was worried. He said he wasn't afraid, but he did ask many geographical questions, which I was happy to answer.

Frank is really interested in tanks and military history, especially World War I, so naturally, when bombing and troops were mentioned on the radio, I was accosted with a flurry of questions.

For him, it's very much related to his interest in history and war generally. I don't think he has any concept of the true horror of war, past or present.

He once told a shocked volunteer at Corfe Castle that war was his "favourite". I explained that he means he enjoys finding out about soldiers and castles. He doesn't fully understand the human cost (of course, he doesn't – he's five!).

Can any of us truly understand the horror of war without experiencing it firsthand?

When I read about the sheer numbers of lost lives in any conflict, I struggle to properly grasp the level of terror and loss. My mind simply can't fathom it.

As Stalin said, "the death of one man is a tragedy. The death of millions is a statistic".

With Frank almost venerating war in some ways, I think it's important that I explain to him how awful it is. This week we've talked about families packing up and leaving their homes. We've spoken of bomb shelters, babies being born in hospital basements, the concept of refugees, and how we can help.

Its easy for a little boy to want to focus on the heroism of soldiers, which is fine, and there's certainly a lot of inspiration to be found from the Ukrainian resistors.

But I want him to have some understanding of the fact that war isn't glorious; it's terrifying, it's barbaric, and as always, it's the disadvantaged people that suffer most. I'm talking about the Russian soldiers too. Young men sent to fight a war they very likely do not agree with, while the children of Russian oligarchs enjoy their lavish life in London. Frank is aware, too, that the invasion of Ukraine is not the only war going on right now.

I disagree with the idea that discussing war, poverty, famine, racism, or inequality with children as young as mine is in any way inappropriate. I'm creating a foundation that I hope to build on as they grow and mature. I think it would be more damaging to keep them in ignorance, lie, or neglect to answer questions properly.

And ultimately, they are going to hear about big world events, and I'd rather they came to me with questions than worry about it privately. I don't show them any distressing images or videos, and they have no concept of long-range or nuclear missiles.

For them, conflict is far away in different countries, so they feel safe. They feel empathy for Ukrainian people, especially the children, which sometimes makes them feel sad, and I am OK with that.

They should. It is sad. That is an appropriate response.

And they have a sense of how lucky they are to be safe, not to have to flee their homes or worry about war personally. We talked about what toys they would pick if they did have to leave home and seek refuge, and I had a lump in my throat discussing that with them.

For the boys, it was a completely hypothetical scenario, though, and they happily bickered about which teddy would be chosen.

I understand the impulse to want to shield children from bad news, from stories of war or terrorism, but it is possible to engage with them about these horrific topics without traumatising them.

You know your kid; you know what they can understand and how sensitive they might be to the subject matter.

But ignoring what is happening is futile. And my God – how fortunate are we to have the luxury to control when and how our kids find out what war is. A privilege denied to so many parents the world over.

For this, I will never stop feeling incredibly lucky and so very, very sad.

The Independent has a proud history of campaigning for the rights of the most vulnerable, and we first ran our Refugees Welcome campaign during the war in Syria in 2015. Now, as we renew our campaign and launch this petition in the wake of the unfolding Ukrainian crisis, we are calling on the government to go further and faster to ensure help is delivered. To find out more about our Refugees Welcome campaign, click here. To sign the petition click here. If you would like to donate then please click here for our GoFundMe page.

There’s a lot of parenting advice out there. Some good, some bad, and some very unwelcome. There’s hundreds of books and blogs and contradictory opinions floating around. Or not so much floating as being rammed into our faces. Here’s five times that nuggets of parenting advice didn’t go so well for me.

1. Give your kid choices

The logic is sound; give your child the illusion of choice and they feel like they have some autonomy even with things that are non-negotiable. For example you could say; “would you like to tidy up before we read a story, or after”? The tidying is happening regardless, but this way they feel like they’ve got a choice in the matter. I’ve used this tactic a few times successfully but sometimes it just doesn’t work. Example – I was doing the school run with Bill and we needed to cross the road. He didn’t want to hold my hand because he’s three and way too cool for that. I asked him; “would you like to hold my hand really tight, or soft?” He looked at me square in the face with those green eyes and just said – “I don’t want to hold your hand AT ALL”. Ah. This is where it gets tricky. Because he has to hold my hand; especially navigating the chaos of school run traffic with parents parking over double yellows, mounting curbs, and basically just acting like school pick up is a motor version of the hunger games. Equally, if I were to ask Frank if he would like to tidy his Lego before or after a snack I am confident his response would be to not tidy at all. I can frame it as a choice as much as I like, it’s just not going to work if its something they really don’t want to do. Maybe it worked better when they were younger. But as soon as Bill could say “no” he realised opting out of these quaint little fake-choice set ups was an option. Also – I am incredibly indecisive so if someone were to offer me endless choices all day I’d likely go insane.

2. Sleep when the baby sleeps

Ah yes, this one is a classic. Usually brought out when your baby is a newborn and you’re wading in a fog of exhaustion. There’s a couple of problems with this one though; it assumes that you only have the one kid. So the idea is that when your newborn is sleeping you can power down too…unless you’ve got a toddler/older child running around that needs supervision and then its impossible. And even if you don’t have a toddler to contend with it’s still a massive luxury to be able to nap when your newborn naps. Because there’s also other stuff to do – washing, eating, expressing milk, showering, cooking (possibly). And just general adult stuff. As they get older you hope they will sleep in the night like most humans but often don’t, and then it becomes almost a reverse of this advice nugget. More like – try and sleep when your child allows you to. Often in a broken, dysfunctional way that leaves you zombie-like for work, a shell of your former sleep-fuelled self. Sleep when the baby sleeps? What about if your baby is two and not sleeping in the night at all but you have work in the morning? It just doesn’t work.

3. Verbalise their feelings

This is quite a decent piece of advice actually but I think I get it wrong sometimes. The basic premise is that when they’re young it’s hard for them to say what’s bothering them and that giving names to their feelings can be really useful and (hopefully) stop any lashing out. Example – Bill is mad that Frank is playing with his favourite T-Rex and goes to smack his brother in the head with a Triceratops. I say “I can see that you’re cross about Frank playing with the toy you want, that must be really frustrating. Lets see if we can take turns with the T-Rex”. Sometimes it helps diffuse the situation. Other times it doesn’t work so well. For example we rocked up to a soft play that was full and had to go home. Bill started kicking off and I said “you must be really disappointed that we can’t go in and play”. Yeah – no shit, Mama. The fact I’ve “verbalised his feeling” doesn’t mean that he’s going to handle this particular situation any better. I imagine its the equivalent of me turning up to the pub and it being closed, and honestly? I’d be stamping my foot and crying too. Once I was trying to calm Frank down and said “OK I know you’re cross” and he screamed back “I’M NOT CROSS I’M REALLY REALLY MAD”. Fair enough. In that moment I had the feeling that me ‘getting down to his level’ (as per parenting advice) and calmly telling him how he he felt was actually kind of patronising, and really unwelcome. If I was mad and someone did the same I think it would make me feel worse. So yes, sure – verbalise their feelings. But it won’t always be helpful.

4. Let your kid take the lead

I read this somewhere once and its just not my parenting style. I wouldn’t let my two decide when its time for bed, or what to do with an afternoon, or what to have for dinner because the answers would be never, play computer games, and pizza. Every night. That’s not to say I don’t sometimes ask what they fancy eating, especially if we take them out, or sometimes I might ask if they have ideas for something to do in half term (tank museum, anyone?) But they can’t just take the lead because simply – they make bad decisions. They would stay up too late. They would eat rubbish non stop. They wouldn’t do homework or make their beds. And of course that’s normal – they’re kids. I wouldn’t expect them to be responsible and that’s why I don’t let them be in charge. Plus they might find being in charge exhausting; I find making tough decisions and being an adult pretty tiring. Maybe its better to let them be kids and we can be the grown ups and put in a healthy routine for them. To each their own though.

5. Cherish every moment

There are plenty of moments to cherish, but every moment? No – I don’t think so. Poo explosions in the under 1s group. Screaming in the supermarket (the baby, not me. I saved it for the car ride home). Masisitis. C section scars. Tantrums. Freezing your tits off in the park whilst making awkward small talk with another mum by the swings. There’s a lot of moments that are un-cherisable; but that doesn’t mean you don’t cherish them. And although I would have given anyone who gave me this advice in the midst of the four month sleep regression a withering look, the years when our kids are young really do fly by. I could do with cherishing a bit more really. Its a blink of an eye and suddenly they’re crawling, walking, and then running into nursery without a second glance back at you. The cherish-able moments are often ones that hit you on a rainy Sunday when they snuggle up to watch a movie, when they put their arms all the way around you for a hug, or when they say something so funny and grown up it takes your breath away a little. Do we enjoy every moment? Of course not, no. Those moments? Definitely. They sustain us through the 3am night feeds and supermarket tantrums.

In the end we have to forge our own path and do what’s best for our families; advice is something we can listen to and happily ignore if it's not for us, or try and later abandon if needed. And there’s some really decent tips out there too. Just pick and choose the helpful bits like a parenting pick n mix, and do what you can to make it to bedtime.

A mom and her two sins

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