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How to talk to children about the crisis in Ukraine

Here is what a clinical psychologist recommends when talking about the war with your kids.

AUSTIN, Texas — The Russian war against Ukraine is flooding national headlines and it can be overwhelming for anyone, especially children.

Dr. Wayne Pernell, a success coach with a Ph.D. in clinical psychology, said children are perceptive by nature and the greatest remedy to soothe worry, anxiety and confusion is to provide age-appropriate knowledge, truthful responses and comfort and reassurance from the adults in their lives.

RELATED: Here's how you can help the people of Ukraine

"Your children are the barometer for the home and you really need to focus on what are you putting out there that they might be picking up," Pernell said. "It's important to assume that kids will hear about it anyway, and that goes from everything from the war to more adult topics."

Dr. Pernell recommends parents:

  • Be honest
  • Check your anxiety 
  • Ask questions
  • Inspire an empathetic viewpoint
  • Avoid charged language 
  • Provide comfort 

"The best approach is honesty. Right? Just be honest. Yes, there's a war, yes there are two countries that are at odds and they actually are hurting each other," Pernell said. "And you can use language that is age-appropriate for younger ones."

Ask your child questions about how they feel, he said.

"What did you learn? What are you hearing about the war? What, what concerns you the most? And it becomes a topic of conversation, rather than what's going on with you," Pernell said. "It's not about interrogating to find out."

Pernell said it's OK to share your concerns with your kids and allow them to have empathy so children can connect on a deeper level with those who are struggling. 

RELATED: Shoreline Church in Austin raises more than $100K to help Ukrainian refugees

"Empathy is feeling for, and that means you can feel for another person without being sucked into all of the emotion that goes with that," Pernell said. 

One of the most important things is to make sure your kids feel safe.

"They need to know that they're safe and that they loved, and that they're they're going to be protected by you," Pernell said.

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