Talking to young children about current events can be tricky. On the one hand, you want them to grow up to be savvy consumers of news media. On the other hand, they may not yet have the maturity to process everything that they see and hear today. Furthermore, a lot of events on the news are just upsetting, regardless of a person’s age. The trick is to temper what your children see and hear and provide context. You should not let your children consume more than they can handle.
A lot depends on your child’s temperament. Some children are more sensitive than others, and their media diet has to be monitored more carefully. Here are some general tips for talking to young children about the news.
Accentuate the Positive
Journalists are essentially storytellers, and a good story has to have conflict. Therefore, news stories tend to focus on the negative. If this is all your child sees, he or she may adopt a doom-and-gloom mindset. Try to achieve better balance by seeking out and showing your kids news about good things that happen in the world, such as a story about how a solar battery helps the environment.
Limit Your Child’s Exposure
Most news programs are as much about entertainment as they are about conveying facts. They focus in on the most dramatic images in order to pull readers in. It is totally appropriate to restrict a child’s access to the news, just as you would any other content that you think might have a negative effect. Don’t assume that just because it’s factual, it is good for your children to see.
Don’t keep your TV turned on to a 24-hour news channel all day. Set your browser to open to something other than a news site and monitor your child’s online activities. Wait until after your child goes to bed to watch the local news. As your child grows older and is better able to understand complex issues, you can gradually increase your child’s news media consumption.
Find Out What Your Child Knows
If your child has reached school age, he or she may hear things about the news from other kids or perhaps even teachers. Unfortunately, you cannot be sure that this information is reliable. If there is a current event that is prevalent in the news, ask your child general questions about it and find out what he or she knows. Use that to inform the conversation.
However, don’t force the issue. If your child doesn’t know much about what’s going on or doesn’t seem interested in it, talking about it may do more harm than good.
Listen to Your Child’s Concerns
You may find that your child is troubled by something that he or she has seen or heard. If so, listen to the concerns carefully and validate your child’s feelings. Emphasize all the protective measures in place to keep your family safe. Perhaps review what your child should do in case of an emergency.
There may be times when you child ask questions that you cannot answer. If so, it is perfectly acceptable to say that you don’t know. It may be possible for you and your child to find out the answer together.
Don’t Provide Unnecessary Details
When something really big happens, or something that affects your family directly, you have to talk about it with your child. However, stick to the information that your child needs to know. Be honest, but provide as much reassurance as you can. There may be details to the story that are not necessary to your child’s understanding. Leave these out of the conversation.
Gauge Your Own Reactions
Children tend to take emotional cues from their parents. Therefore, try to react to upsetting events calmly, and your child will likely follow suit. If the news makes you too emotional, you can turn it off.
Serious events can make children feel powerless. It helps sometimes if you show them something that they can do to help the situation. Even young children can do things such as help assemble care packages and write (or dictate) letters to politicians about issues that are important to them.