With images of the devastation and violence all over the TV and papers, parents may find themselves handling difficult questions from their kids. How do you explain that natural disasters and other scary events do occur while still making your children feel safe?
What News Represent to Kids
Unlike movies or entertainment programs, news is real. But according to child's age or maturity level, he or she may not yet understand the differences between fact and fantasy. By the time kids reach 7 or 8, however, what they see on TV can seem all too real. For some youngsters, the vividness of a dramatic news story can be internalized and transformed into something that might happen to them.
Natural disasters or stories of other types of devastation can be personalized in the same manner. A child in Cairo, seeing news about an attack on subways in London, might get scared about using public transportation around town. TV has the effect of shrinking the world and bringing it into our own living rooms.
By concentrating on violent stories, TV news also can promote a "mean-world" syndrome and give kids an inaccurate view of what the world and society are actually like.
To calm children's fears about the news, parents should be prepared to deliver the truth, but only as much truth as a child needs to know. There's no need to go into more details than your child is interested in.
Tips for Parents
To help the conversation along, this article offers flexible suggestions for answering kids' questions about the news. There is no script to follow but these strategies can help you tune in to what your child is thinking and feeling and talk it through together.
Discuss current events with your child regularly. It's important to help kids think through stories they hear about.
Start by finding out what your child knows. When a news topic comes up, ask an open-ended question to find out what she knows like "What have you heard about it?" This encourages your child to let you know what she is thinking.
Ask a follow up question. Don't assume you know how they feel. Instead, get at their understanding of what happened. They could be using twisted logic, like they see a building collapse on TV and think it's Mommy's office building. Correct any misconceptions, and then offer assurance.
Explain simply. Give children the information they need to know in a way that makes sense to them.It’s like when you talk about sex. You obviously wouldn't explain everything to a 5-year-old. Talking about violence and safety is similar.
Listen and acknowledge. If a child talks about a news event (like a local robbery or kidnapping) and is worried, recognize her feeling and comfort her. You might say "I can see you're worried, but you are safe here. Remember how we always lock our doors." This acknowledges your child's feelings, helps her feel secure, and encourages her to tell you more.
Offer reassurance. When a child is exposed to disturbing news, she may worry about her safety. To help her calm down, offer specific examples that relate to her environment and don’t look too terrified yourself.
Tailor your answer to your child's age. The amounts of information children need changes age by age. Until around age 7, experts suggest only addressing the tough stuff if kids bring it up first. But younger children might not be able to handle it well
Recognize that news doesn't have to be driven by disturbing pictures.
Put news stories in proper context. Showing that certain events are isolated or explaining how one event relates to another helps kids make better sense of what they hear.
Watch the news with your kids to filter inappropriate or frightening stories. If you're uncomfortable with the content of the news or if it's inappropriate for your child's age, turn it off.
Anticipate when guidance will be necessary and avoid shows that aren't appropriate for your child's age or level of development.
Talk about what you can do to help. In the case of a news event like a natural disaster, kids may gain a sense of control and feel more secure if you find ways to help those who have been affected.
Create "teachable moments." Keep a globe or atlas handy when watching the news to look up countries or areas mentioned in stories. Use an encyclopedia or the Internet to get more in-depth information about an issue or a country that kids show interest in.
Try to find positive news stories. Call attention to stories that emphasize positive actions and people making a difference - stories about new medical research, peace accords, activism on social or environmental issues and exceptional achievements in sports, the arts or sciences.
Explain the business of news. News media provide a valuable public service but they are also businesses that, in most cases, depend on advertising revenues to support them. In the search for images and stories that will attract audiences, the news media tend to focus on sensational crimes, tragedies and disasters.
Discuss bias and stereotyping in the news. Bias can be unintentional or deliberate, depending on the motives of news gatherers, the sources of information they rely on and the political leanings of the media outlet's owner. As well, reporters often work under tight deadlines and may not have time to present several sides of an issue.
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