When tough news hits the headlines, it can be tempting to gloss it over or hide the facts, especially when talking with children. As soon as my husband and I started talking about the recent Las Vegas shooting at the Route 91 Harvest festival which left 59 people dead and hundreds injured, my daughter had questions. “What happened, Mommy? What did a bad guy do?” It can be challenging for parents to know how much to share and in which manner. Here are some ideas for how to share hard news with your kids.
Share the Basic Facts in Kid-Friendly Terms
News stories are often scary and distressing, even for adults. Kids don’t need to be exposed to all the gritty details from a news story, especially when kids don’t yet have a worldview to help process those details. The Las Vegas mass shooting that occurred on October 1, 2017 prompted a lot of discussion between me and my husband. We also realized we needed to filter that discussion in front of our young kids. When my 5-year-old asked questions, we told her that a bad man went to a music concert and hurt a lot of people and the police had to come and help. For a 5-year-old, that’s a fairly all-encompassing explanation.
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Have an Intentional Discussion
Kids various ages will process news headlines different ways. My 3-year-old doesn’t have a clue what’s going on in the news but she may still have questions about a conversation she overhears. We sat down with our kids (we were driving) and explained the basics about the Las Vegas shooting, which promoted a discussion about why people make bad choices. On the flip side, we can highlight how lots of people acted as heroes and helped other people who were complete strangers.
Don’t Overexpose Kids to Television Reports
If you have young children, don’t expose them to endless television reports about a distressing news story. My husband and I mostly check the news on our phones, which allows us to watch videos and check for updates on our own terms. Turning off the TV allows parents to make sure their kids don’t see distressing photos or news updates as they unfold.
Filter the News as Kids Receive It
This tip goes back to re-wording the news in a way that helps kids process hard issues. Kids generally know what people have taught them, whether mom or dad or a teacher. News headlines can bring up issues that kids have never encountered and don’t understand the reasons for. Hard news stories are an opportunity to teach kids about right and wrong choices, ways to help other people, and also provide reassurance that your kids are safe. You can also explain that some events are rare or unlikely to happen again.
Combine the Facts with Reassurance and Hope
News stories that bring updates about a war, specific events like a shooting, or international events such as the London bombing in September 2017 can raise fears for kids that are far beyond their ability to process. Parents can reassure kids that they are safe at home and help kids process their emotions. We can talk about the police officers that help in scary situations and the medical respondents that provide first-aid services. Parents can intentionally teach kids about the danger in the world, while giving kids tools to balance their fears with hope. When a “bad guy” chooses to spread violence, the heroes come out and show their courage to help carry the day.
What are some ways you’ve helped your kids process distressing news stories?
Katie enjoys all things creative; DIY projects, photography, decorating and family adventures. She feels blessed to be a stay-at-home mom with 3 kids and many artistic outlets.