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Victoria experts offer tips on talking with kids about Russia’s war on Ukraine

Open conversations, screentime limits, taking action locally among suggestions
Members of Greater Victoria’s Ukrainian community gathered outside the B.C. legislature on Feb. 24 to stand against Russia’s invasion. (Jake Romphf/News Staff)

Images, stories and videos of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine are circulating on social media at a speed and volume unprecedented by any war before.

Consuming it can be overwhelming for anyone, but is especially difficult for children, two Greater Victoria experts are warning.

“Kids are just not set up in terms of their development and executive functioning to be able to take in that amount of information and know what to do about it,” said Sarah Ftaya, a therapist at Victoria’s Child and Family Therapy Centre. Depending on their age, children have a difficult time understanding time, distance, where something is happening and how it could affect them, she added.

Royal Roads University humanitarian studies professor Athena Madan said the live nature of social media platforms such as TikTok further blurs those lines.

“They feel connected to suffering that can be happening millions of miles away,” she said.

The result can be existential feelings, anxiety and a sense of powerlessness, Ftaya noted.

READ ALSO: ‘It’s my time to do what I can’: Victoria man headed to Ukraine to assist at hospital

The good news is, there’s quite a bit parents and caregivers can do to help.

“I think a lot of it comes down to monitoring consumption, and having limitations and protections around screen use in general in your home,” Ftaya said. She recommended parents model reduced consumption to their kids, and set aside daily chunks of time when devices aren’t present, such as with an after school snack or at dinner time.

Both women emphasized the importance of making time for open, empathetic conversations.

“I always suggest that parents ask kids ‘What do you already know about this?’” Ftaya said. From there, parents can correct any misconceptions their children may have and offer simple, factual information.

It can also be helpful to turn fear and anxieties into action.

“When the state of the world is overwhelming, it helps to focus on what one can do locally,” Ftaya said. “This alleviates the feelings of powerlessness.”

Responding with hope is important, Madan agreed.

“Distress doesn’t have to sit with them all the time.”

READ ALSO: PHOTOS: Vancouver Island group stands with Ukraine through sunflower rock paintings

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About the Author: Jane Skrypnek

I'm a provincial reporter for Black Press Media.
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