- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 3, 2022

Europe’s first ground war in half a century has made it urgent for parents to discuss Russia’s invasion of Ukraine with their children, according to a noted parenting educator.

It’s important not to make assumptions since children of different ages and personalities will have different reactions to what they see online regarding Ukraine, says Laura Linn Knight, author of the forthcoming book “Break Free from Reactive Parenting.”

That’s why she says it’s important for parents to ask questions, discuss their children’s feelings, scroll social media posts with them to discuss what they see and encourage them to raise money or donate goods to help the people who are suffering.

“I just worry that when kids get bombarded by these images and news, they go to a place of anxiety and anger,” Mrs. Knight said. “A more empowering tool is to give them facts and ask them how they can make a positive change by raising money or volunteering to help families in Ukraine.”

But parents also need to regulate their own emotions for the conversations to help, she added.

“Parents and children need to find calm before discussing the war because our world and families are very busy,” she said. “We’ve been through a tremendous amount of stress over the last two years, which can lead parents to become reactive rather than supportive.”

Mrs. Knight is a parenting educator certified through the Positive Discipline Association, an education nonprofit that emphasizes respect and community in raising children. She teaches mindfulness meditation in her workshops to help parents and children relax.

That’s the opposite of what she calls the “reactive parenting” of caregivers who try to bribe, threaten or yell a child into feeling better.

“The danger is that a child will feel isolated emotionally and lacking a feeling of support, resulting in increased anxiety and depression,” she said.

A former elementary school teacher, Mrs. Knight said a major obstacle to parents having honest discussions with their children about Ukraine is a misguided refusal to look at their social media accounts.

“It’s okay to look at our kids’ social media accounts with them,” she said. “This is an important time where you don’t need to have your child scrolling through social media without your supervision.”

However, she acknowledged that screen time is a power struggle that happens in every home.

“Kids want autonomy with their screens and parents aren’t sure what to do because they don’t have the bandwidth,” she said. “Now is not the time to have your tween or teen scrolling through social media alone, because they need your support to make sense of what they’re seeing.”

Mrs. Knight said it’s particularly important for parents to help their kids on social media distinguish between news and fake news, including manipulated photographs that stir up anger against the Russians.

Although her 7-year-old daughter and 9-year-old son are too young to use social media, Mrs. Knight said attitudes of “us against them” filter down even to younger grade levels.

“I think it’s really important for parents and families to discuss that while leadership can make decisions, a whole group of people isn’t bad,” Mrs. Knight said. “What about the Russians who live here in the United States?”

Based in Scottsdale, Arizona, she and her husband of 10 years have found family meetings useful, even though they do not replace one-on-one conversations with each child.

“My husband and I learned very early on the power of family meetings. It gives children an opportunity to share their worries about what’s going on,” she said.

• Sean Salai can be reached at ssalai@washingtontimes.com.

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