PEI

How to talk to your kids about grim news in the world

From the recent mosque shootings in Christchurch, New Zealand to climate change, news headlines can often be grim and overwhelming — especially for children. 

'You can't hide it or deny that it's happening'

'If they're coming home and asking you questions I'm thinking that's great — that you're already doing a lot of good at home for them to be comfortable and open' says George Mallia, a registered clinical psychologist on P.E.I. (Liderina/Shutterstock )

From the recent mosque shootings in Christchurch, New Zealand to climate change, headlines in the news can often be grim and overwhelming — especially for children. 

Navigating your child's questions on the news can be a tricky situation, said George Mallia, a registered clinical psychologist on P.E.I.

One of the main things to keep in mind in these conversations is the adult's responsibility to model what is an appropriate response to difficult and emotional topics, he said.

Here are some of Mallia's tips on how to talk to your kids about troubling news in the world. 

1. Create a safe space for conversation

'You have to be open and honest and say, "Yes, there was a terrible shooting at a mosque in New Zealand,"' Mallia says. (David Donnelly/CBC)

"If they're coming home and asking you questions I'm thinking that's great — that you're already doing a lot of good at home for them to be comfortable and open and able to express things that are concerning and might be troubling to them with you," Mallia said.

Remember, Mallia said, what your navigating isn't easy and it demands your full attention. It's important to make sure children feel as though there is both time and space to talk about what is on their minds.

2. Be honest and genuine

Maintain an open conversation with your kids about the news, says Mallia. (SNeG17/Shutterstock)

"You can't hide it or deny that it's happening. You have to be open and honest and say, 'Yes, there was a terrible shooting at a mosque in New Zealand."

When you're being honest, Mallia said, don't be afraid to show your own emotions as well.

"You're really sort of modelling or teaching your kids what an appropriate compassionate response is to a very serious and difficult situation."

With scary things you don't want to shy away or minimize or block out -- you want to address them head-on but with compassion, he said.

3. Don't be graphic

"The developing brain is not ready to process much more graphic details of violence," Mallia said.

"When you're a child the world is pretty big. And when people are following rules and things are going as scheduled it makes the world feel like a safe place. Once something catastrophic happens ... like a shooting at a mosque or even the Mozambique flood, that makes the world appear to children to be very unsafe."

Talking about feelings is never a bad thing. Building a child's emotional vocabulary is fantastic.— George Mallia

Exposing kids to the more graphic details of the news could lead to your child having nightmares, potentially becoming emotionally overwhelmed and could even cause your child to see the world as a less safe place, which is detrimental to their development, he said.

4. Help them identify their emotions

After your child shares how they are feeling, Mallia says, it's not a bad idea to thank them for expressing themselves to you. (Evgeny Atamanenko/Shutterstock)

Talking about the way you're feeling, even as a parent, is helpful in encouraging your kids to figure out how they are feeling about the news, Mallia said. 

"It lets them know that it's okay to share these feelings with people they love and trust," he said.

After your child shares how they are feeling, Mallia said, it's not a bad idea to even thank them for expressing themselves to you.

"Talking about feelings is never a bad thing. Building a child's emotional vocabulary is fantastic," he said.

5. Encourage them to get involved

If your kids are concerned about news items like climate change, it could be a good idea to help get them involved in an organization that tackles the issue. (wavebreakmedia/Shutterstock)

If there is a particular news item that is troubling to your child encouraging them to become active about it, if possible, could be a good way for them to process their feelings and even help others who may be affected, Mallia said.

That could take the form of taking your child with you to a vigil to offer support to those who might be grieving or helping them become involved in an organization that works to tackle issues they are concerned about, he said.

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