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How to talk with your children about Russia's invasion of Ukraine

With information circulating online, parents are having to answer tough questions. A St. Luke's Child Clinical Psychologist said to be brief, honest and direct.

MERIDIAN, Idaho — Images and videos from Russia's invasion of Ukraine continue to circulate on social media, catching the attention of young children attempting to make sense of the conflict.

Matt Serlin and his family live in Meridian. Serlin is already fielding tough questions from a curious and concerned 6th grade daughter.

"Her actual first question was, 'Is Russia going to bomb the United States?'" Serlin said. "It makes sense to talk to kids in a way that doesn't sugar coat things, but also doesn't freak them out too."

Serlin knows his daughter is seeing information online. He argues it does not serve his daughter any good avoiding an engaging discussion. It is his job as a parent to help her understand the world around her and make sense of the images she is seeing, according to Serlin.

"You have to assume at some level they're gonna see something," Serlin said. "I think that makes the conversations with parents and kids that much more critical."

As a parent, you are the expert of your own child, according to St. Luke's Child Clinical Psychologist Dr. Gretchen Gudmundsen. 

Dr. Gudmundsen encourages parents to listen and answer their children's questions honestly, speak openly about feelings and make a thoughtful decision about much time you are going to spend worrying about problems you cannot control.

"First off, ask them, 'what have you heard? What do you know?' Just answer the questions asked, don't go on too much, but to be honest," Dr. Gudmundsen said. "Keep it to the facts, which may include, 'I don't know' or 'I don't have all the answers' or 'I don't know what will happen,' which is okay and often the truth."

Some children may feel concerned about an 'I don't know' answer. For those kids, it can be especially helpful to add some assurance, according to Dr. Gudmundsen.

"Keep it brief and clear," Dr. Gudmundsen said. "For a younger kid, something might be, 'yeah, there is a war going on. It's really far away and it's a big deal. But right now we're safe, and we're okay.'"

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