Talking to Kids About Difficult Topics in the News

Sitting teacher surrounded by students

Global warming.  The opioid epidemic.  School shootings. Pandemics.  We want to keep our kids in a bubble and protect them from the harsh realities in the outside world but we can’t pretend that bad news is nothing big and that life is filled with puppies and rainbows.  The news is loaded with terrible and frightening stories that are difficult for parents to wrap their heads around for themselves, let alone explain them to a child in a way that doesn’t fill him with fear.  As parents, we’re supposed to make our children feel safe and secure but when you’re upset or confused about the world yourself, that job becomes much harder.

Here are some tips to help you talk to your children about difficult topics in the news while instilling a feeling of security:

Don’t Deny Reality

The first impulse is to deny reality.  To tell them it’s nothing and not to worry about it.  They do worry, and depending on their age, they could have some amount of knowledge of what’s going on.  You may think your young child is only playing with her Legos in the corner as you’re watching or discussing the issues but she’s listening to everything. 

Find Out What They Know Before You Explain It To Them

Before you explain things to them, ask them what they know.  If they’re young, there’s no reason to fill in all the blanks for them.  They may not know much. You’d probably be surprised by the things your children have been exposed to in their tween years.  They hear things at school or see things on the internet. They may not want to discuss the issue which is fine. But they may keep their feelings about it bottled up, which is not fine.  Having them tell you what they know is a good place to get the conversation started. Older kids may require more details and what they know can be distorted from one person to the next. With a clear understanding of what they know, you can guide the direction of the conversation.

Speak To Them Using Age-appropriate Words

A four-year-old isn’t going to understand the details of a tragedy so it’s okay to speak to them in simple terms, using words and experiences that they’d understand.  Think about what you’re going to say ahead of time and go over it in your head beforehand. Some things need to be said deliberately and delicately and if you’ve rehearsed them, you can plan how to speak on their level.  Tell the truth but leave out graphic details.

Listen

Difficult and sensitive subjects are hard to talk about.  Let them know that it’s hard for you to talk about it too and tell them that they can be open and you won’t be mad.  Like you, they’re trying to make sense of it all. Listen to their thoughts and feelings. Let them know that you won’t get mad about anything they say. They need to know they can openly talk to you about something even if you don’t agree with them.  Tell them it’s okay to feel the way they do. Validate their feelings.  

Be Honest With Your Feelings

You don’t have to know everything and it’s okay for them to see that.  This is a good opportunity for you to learn together. Don’t just tell them what’s going on―tell them how you feel about it.  Show them your feelings but also your strength.

Manage Your Own Anxiety

If you’re going to show your kids strength, you need to keep your own anxiety in check.  It’s okay for your kids to see your emotions but if you’re panicking, you won’t be able to reassure them that everything is going to be okay.  You don’t have to go it alone. If you need help, seek guidance from a mental health professional.

Take a Step Back

During difficult times, news of what’s happening can be overwhelming.  It’s good to step back, take a breather, and spend quiet time reading a book or playing a board game with your kids.

Keep Things Positive

Ask your child can think of ways to help.  Point out the good. Like Fred Rogers said

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” 

Tell Them They Are Safe

Reassure them.  Let them know that above all, they are protected and safe.  It’s okay to show them that you’re concerned too, or even that you may not quite understand it yourself but your children need to be secure in the knowledge that you’re in charge and that you will keep them safe.  Reassure them often not only with your words but with hugs too.

More information on talking to your children about difficult topics in the news can be found here

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