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How to Talk To Kids When The News Cycle Gets Scary

Jul 24, 2018

The news cycle feels more than ever like a death knell. 

And because tragic events are getting closer and closer to home — or it can feel that way, anyway — kids are hearing about and talking about these incidents more and more. And they probably have questions about their safety (you probably are worrying about it too, let's be honest).


Relevant Reading: That Time My Daughter's School Went on Lockdown


The news cycle can be unrelenting. The goal of the news is to inform, which is why we hear about these events, often down to every small detail. These tragic events happen, and to not hear about them would be a failure of the news. But as parents and caregivers, your goal is different. There's room to discuss these events, but you can be much more tame about the details and you can withhold any information you don't believe is helpful or age-appropriate for your child. You can also turn off the TV or recycle the newspaper. 

Of course, how you handle these events — who you tell, what you say — is up to you, but it's important to remember that how we react can leave a lasting impression on little ones, so to reduce the likelihood of panic, it's best not to approach the discussion with a sense of doom and gloom. If you are having trouble coming up with a strategy, below are some excellent resources from a variety of experts to help guide you if you too are feeling just as scared and vulnerable as your kids. They're great places to look if you need to find a way to talk about what's really going on out there.


'There's No One Size Fits All:' How to Talk to Kids About Tragedy

Post-Humboldt and the Toronto van attack, CBC News sought answers on how to make sense of it all for parents who may have little ones with questions. Among a lot of other great advice, child and family psycholgist  Dr. Paul Ritchie said, "We don’t have to be perfect in these conversations, we just have to do our best." 


How to Talk to Kids About Violence, Crime, and War

Common Sense Media has a great guide with age-appropriate talking points for different age groups (2-6, 7-12 and teen). For young kids, it's suggested not to bring it up unless you think they know something. For older kids, it recommends talking about sensationalism in news, and the old adage, "if it bleeds it leads." Giving your kids an idea of how the news cycle can inflate a story beyond its actual scope is a good lesson in media literacy, even if the opportunity for the lesson isn't the greatest news. 


Speaking with Students About Tragic Events

The Toronto District School Board recommends letting kids work through what happened. "It is normal for people to try to make sense of things when a serious loss occurs. Allow your child to share his or her ideas and speculations. Help them to separate what they know from what they are guessing about."


How to Talk to Kids About the Las Vegas Shooting

Amy Morin in Psychology Today advocates for talking about tragic events with your kids, but she notes that how we discuss — and even react — to these stories will shape how your kids view the world. She notes, "Rather than saying, 'Bad things don’t happen,' tell them, 'Bad things do happen, but we’re strong enough to deal with those things.'"


How to Help Kids Feel Safe After Tragedy

Only provide necessary information for your child's age. The goal is to not terrify a little one with information. For PBS Parents, Grace Hwang Lynch talked to certified school psychologist Eric Rossen, who says "the key is to answer — not avoid — them without giving too much information. For example, you might explain the Connecticut shootings to a school-age child like this: 'Someone went into a school and they hurt a lot of people. But we know that your school is safe, and you're safe in your home.'"


We know it's not easy, but hopefully these resources will help the conversations steer toward a less frightening place. Because you're all OK, and while bad things do happen, your family can handle them. You're safe.

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