Communication is a huge part of relationships. We talk to our kids every day. They are learning from our verbal and non-verbal behaviour, as well as taking in information from everyone else around them.
As parents, it can sometimes be confronting to discuss different issues with our kids. What do we say? How much detail should we go into? Should we let them ask the questions or bring up certain topics ourselves?
Today we are discussing how to talk to kids about scary news. That means things like natural disasters, shootings, burglaries, car accidents, etc. Events that we may, as adults, be emotionally prepared to hear about because we have heard about them before and maybe even had related life experience. But this type of news can be very, very scary to our children!
Natasha Daniels is a child therapist and the author of Anxiety Sucks! A Teen Survival Guide and How to Parent Your Anxious Toddler. She is the creator of AnxiousToddlers.com and the parenting E-Course How to Teach Your Kids to Crush Anxiety. Her work has been featured on various sites including Huffington Post, Scary Mommy and The Mighty.
She is going to share some helpful tips for for talking to kids about scary news…
Why is it important for parents to talk to their kids about scary news?
No matter how hard we try to cocoon our children from the harshness of the world around us, inevitably they are going to be exposed. Their peers will talk. They will catch a snippet on the news. It will be talked about at school. As parents, we can help our kids by processing these events before they hear it from other people.
Are there any points to keep in mind when discussing this topic with kids?
When talking to kids about scary happenings in our world, like natural disasters or violence, it is important to not focus on the gory details. Keep the conversation simple and broad. Children will personalize national tragedies. They will wonder what that means for the safety of their own family or their own town. You can help reassure them by highlighting how they are still safe.
Show your child on a map where the tragedy happened. Although as adults we realize that tragedies can happen anywhere, children are much more egocentric. Distancing the tragedy from the children’s life and their town will help them feel safer in the short term.
Talk about the odds of a news tragedy happening in your community. You do not want to sugarcoat or lie about the risks the world has to offer, but children already magnify all of life’s risks. Help your child put the tragedy into perspective.
There are roughly 7 billion people in the world. Tell them the number of people who were hurt (avoid the word killed) in the tragedy. For example, “That’s 200 people out of 7 billion.” The odds of winning the lottery are 1 out of 175 million – not billion. You have better odds of winning the lottery than being in a tragedy.
What age would you begin these conversations and why?
If your child is old enough to go to school, they are old enough to be exposed to this information. Very young children don’t need to process these events unless you bring it into their awareness – which I would not suggest.
Are there any resources you recommend using to prepare for parent-child discussions?
For more information on this topic you can read:
How to Help Your Anxious Kids When Bad Things Happen in the World
Parenting in a World with Mass Shootings
How to Talk to Children When Bad Things Happen
How do you talk to your kids about scary news? Any helpful analogies, resources or experiences you want to share?
Find more great information from Natasha about helping kids deal with anxiety on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest or follow her parenting videos for Curious.com.
Great advice! 🙂 You are so very right – if the kids are in school, they will hear things…even if you keep a lid on the news at home. However, we had a couple of events last year that really hit close to home and unfortunately, we weren’t able to point to a map and see how far away we were. Both times we were able to focus on serving others as a way to get cope. The most recent was the officer shootings in Dallas – a city that my children see not as a big city but as an extension of our town. That spurred a lot of hard questions and discussion in our house and we simply had to cater the answers to each child, being that they are 11, 9, and 6 and all see the world a little differently. As a family, we decided the best way to directly help the officer’s families was to donate monetarily, and all of us contributed. The other event was the day after Christmas tornado that hit a lot of our friends’ homes and neighborhoods (my kindergartener’s teacher lost everything). After the sirens stopped and we checked in with as many friends and family as we could, we began to gather supplies in our house. The next day (and for the rest of our Christmas break), we help to deliver food, water, and other supplies as well as toys (remember: this was December 26th…toys that were scattered all over living rooms were now completely gone). We have taught our children the dangers of tornados, and living in tornado alley we make sure they take the sirens and weather alerts seriously. But learning about something and experiencing an event are very different. Having them with us to see first-hand the devastation that the wind can bring was, in our opinion, good for them. Not to make them fear our world, but to respect the awesome power this planet can wield and to protect themselves instead of blindly ignoring warnings. We answered their MANY questions as best we could and in the end, the majority of the memories they have of last Christmas are the smiles from the kids and families we were helping.