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Current Events for Kids: How to Talk to Kids about Scary News

Current Events for Kids: How to Talk to Kids about Scary News

Here's how to talk to your kids about current events and the crazy and sometimes scary things going on in the news.


Processing the news can be difficult for adults. So, it’s not surprising that it can be tough for kids to handle hearing about scary news, like the recent riots at the U.S. Capitol, or current events, like marches happening around the country.

Whether we like it or not, kids will likely find out what happened via television, online news, or social media. If parents don’t discuss scary news or current events with their kids, children might let their imagination run wild. Or, they may learn about news in a way you’re uncomfortable with. “What they hear many not be accurate or what you want to convey to them depending on their age,” says Jennifer Trachtenberg, M.D., a pediatrician, creator of Pediatrician in Your Pocket, spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics, and assistant clinical professor of pediatrics at The Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City.

You want to proactively talk with them about scary current events so you’re the source of their information. While you don’t have to talk to your kids about every awful current event that happens in the world, choose ones that make the most sense. For example, kids may talk about the Capitol riots at school, whether in person or online. “Since you’re their most trusted source of information, let them know that they can discuss events with you whenever they’d like and that you’re a safe space to process thoughts and feeling with,” says Graziella Simonetti, a Long Island-based parenting and relationship coach with Your Parenting Pals. “Talking about big events with kids helps them make sense of the world around them.”

Check in with kids when you have uninterrupted time to speak with them. Maybe it’s at the dinner table, at bedtime, or in the car. Talk with kids in a way that’s honest and age appropriate. The more mature your kid is, the more sophisticated and detailed your answer can be. Be conscious of your wording and what your kid can process. “Factoring in your kid's age, where they are developmentally, and their temperament is important when thinking about how to have conversations about big events,” Simonetti says. “Use language that is clear and straightforward.”

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How to Talk to Kids About Scary Current Events

Before launching into a conversation, give yourself some time to process what’s happening. When you’re distressed, it can make your kids feel unsafe, Simonetti says. “Put on your own oxygen mask first,” says Roseann Capanna-Hodge, Ed.D, a Connecticut-based psychologist and integrative mental health expert. “Kids pay more attention to what you do than what you say. So, if you’re upset when speaking with them, they’ll see that and not really process what you’re saying.”

Ask your kid open-ended questions about current events.

Let your kid lead the conversation by asking open-ended questions. “When you ask yes or no questions, it gives your kid an opportunity to avoid the question,” Dr. Capanna-Hodge says.

Dr. Trachtenberg suggests asking, “What have you seen or heard about the news events from yesterday?” “Do you have specific questions I can answer for you? You can ask me anything.” “How are you feeling about what happened?” That way you can figure out what your kid knows before you dive in headfirst. They may know less or more than you realize. “It also allows us to scale back on sharing unnecessarily troubling information that perhaps doesn’t need to be shared,” Simonetti says.

Listen to your kid's thoughts about current events.

Don’t dismiss their thoughts and feelings. Listen to what they have to say. Respond with supportive and honest comments. “Validate any emotions your child shares with you,” Simonetti says. “This helps your child feel heard and understood. It can help calm their brains and allow them a chance to process their feelings. Validation helps encourage further conversation, as well.”

If your teen is old enough to use social media, perhaps you can suggest they follow a current events for kids Instagram page like @NYTKids.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by The New York Times for Kids (@nytkids)



Look up information together.

You’re not expected to know all the answers. “Being honest with our children about not knowing all the answers builds trust so that when we do have answers, those answers are accurate and truthful,” Simonetti says. Find answers together, Dr. Trachtenberg suggests, or promise them you’ll try to get an answer soon. (For younger kids, Dr. Trachtenberg suggests using age-appropriate websites and discussing what you see or find together.) “It’s okay to let your child know you don’t know [all the answers],” Dr. Trachtenberg says. Sometimes, you really just don’t know why something happened.

For some help explaining some of the more difficult topics, NBC Nightly News does a Kids Edition every week to answer questions in simplified ways that anyone can follow:

CNN also creates occasional town halls to talk about the big topics in ways children can understand, and they even partnered with Sesame Street for the Coronavirus one.

Find ways to help others.

Take positive action together through activism. “Figuring out ways to help can be a powerful relationship-building activity and can help your children channel their feelings into positive action,” Simonetti says. “It can also help your child feel a sense of control during turbulent times.”

You can collect donations, call or write to an elected official, or attend meetings together. Doing so can help reduce a kid's anxiety. “See what interests your child and do it together,” Dr. Trachtenberg says. “Positive family action, not just when major events occur but also throughout the year, can reinforce family values as well.”

 

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Stacey Feintuch

Author: Stacey Feintuch is a freelance writer for print and online publications. She lives in Bergen County, NJ, and is mom to two boys. See More

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