Written by Regine Galanti
There’s been a lot to worry about in the news lately: plane crashes, crises in Israel and in Ukraine, to name a few. During times of world crisis, it’s easy to assume that your children aren’t affected or don’t know what is going on. Many children, however, are very tuned into their parents’ feelings and take notice of facial expressions, tone, as well as what they overhear when others are watching on the news. Furthermore, children tend to internalize information, putting themselves at the center of scary events, and thereby personalizing them. For example, they may worry that an overseas war could impact their personal safety, as if their home could be next. What’s the best way to address scary world news with a child?
Find out what your child knows
Don’t assume your child does not already have information, and conversely, don’t assume that he or she “must have heard,” particularly if the child is under 6 or 7 years old. A good tip is to start a dialogue using simple yes/no questions (“have you heard anything about Israel lately?”) Using such questions, both initially as well as to follow up, gives you a chance to find out what a child knows without giving them information that might make them more worried. It also allows the child to tell you what’s on their mind and conveys that they’re being heard. When a child does know about scary world news, help them label what they’re feeling, and validate those emotions. It’s okay to feel sad, scared or angry. Negative emotions are part of life too.
Keep it simple and age appropriate
When children ask questions, it’s important to be forthcoming and provide information but only using language that is appropriate for them. More important, children don’t need to know all the details, and a few sentences are often enough. The “right amount of information” will vary based on the individual child, as well as their age. While a young child might be reassured to know that a plane crash is far away and that they’re safe, an older one might want more information about how planes work, and what steps are being taken to prevent a crash closer to home. Either way…
Focus on safety
Because children focus on their own perspective and how events affect them, it is important to provide assurance that they are safe. Be specific about why your home or neighborhood is different, and the steps that adults are taking to maintain their safety. Remember that actions speak louder than words – adults need to be calm when speaking to children about scary news and model feeling safe with how they act, not only how they talk. Keep your own worries for your spouse or friends after your children are safely in bed, not when they’re playing a few feet away but you assume they aren’t listening.
Finally, turn it off!
Children do not understand the news the same way adults do. Replays of the same horrific close-up, HD footage of carnage can often make a child think that the event is occurring over and over. Even if children aren’t directly watching the news, don’t assume your child isn’t paying attention just because they’re doing something else. So, turn off the TV or radio while your children are awake, and monitor your own reactions.