Explaining National News to Kids

Consider your child's temperament and age when discussing news reports.

I’m not normally one who has the television turned to the nightly news. I went through a period after the birth of my first child where I had a hard time sleeping due to the upsetting stories I read in the daily newspaper and saw on the evening newscasts. I even ended up canceling my newspaper subscription and avoided watching the local news for a period of time.

Now that my kids are older (ages 9 and 12) it’s not feasible to keep them completely shielded from upsetting local and national news. Chances are, they will hear about it from classmates at school who most likely won’t have all the facts. This past Friday evening, when I got home from work, my social media feed was blowing up with the upsetting news of the attacks on Paris. Later on, I figured it would be a good idea to do some research on the best way to discuss upsetting new stories with our kids. Here are a few tips I picked up as a guide for future discussions:

Don’t go into great detail with pre-school age kids. This is the age where children have a hard time separating fact from fiction, which can lead to unnecessary fears or excessive worry. Try not to turn the news on when they are around. If they do have questions about something they’ve heard, reassure them that they are safe and loved.

Consider your child’s temperament. If you have a child prone to anxiety, share the basic facts and wait for any questions. In the case of the terrorist attacks on Paris, you don’t have to provide a number of fatalities or get into details on how the attacks were carried out. Explain that any fears he is experiencing are natural, but that these types of events are rare and unlikely to happen to close to home.

Monitor the content your children are exposed to. Common Sense Media suggests you might want to explain that news programs compete for viewers, and part of this includes broadcasting images that can be grisly or upsetting. Consider limiting news broadcasts of tragedies excessively when your children are around to keep them from being bombarded with images.

Do you watch regular news broadcasts when your children are around? How do you discuss difficult news stories, such as natural disasters or terrorist attacks?