Parents and caregivers have found themselves juggling many incremental responsibilities in recent months. While no two families are alike, many parents and caregivers are reporting wearing countless hats during these challenging times – full time employees, full time parents, full time teachers, and full time playmates – all in a day’s work! And now for some, a new title is emerging: full time news moderator and/or news commentator. With an unprecedented focus on current events in the media, ranging from race relations, to the global pandemic and beyond, parents and caregivers are taking new responsibilities in helping their children process what they see on the news. Children, more than ever, are inundated with current events (the good, the bad, and the ugly) and are often left confused, scared, and angry. Below are a few useful tips in having these conversations with your children at home:
Don’t avoid these conversations. Having these difficult conversations about current events shows children that these topics are not taboo and are important to discuss. Although it may feel daunting to have these conversations with your children, avoidance often leaves kids on their own to figure things out and they become vulnerable to misinformation, misconceptions, and confusion. Therefore, having an open dialogue with your children on what they see on the news is critical to their growth and understanding of the world around them.
- Remember: You want them to learn about hard topics from you and not from another source. Parents and caregivers are the most trusted source of information.
Keep these conversations ongoing. Communicate clearly with your children that the family can discuss current events at any time, that they have a safe place to process their thoughts, and that you are open to any additional questions in the future. Also, it is okay if you don’t know the answer to your children’s questions- it can be an opportunity to find the answers together!
Start with open ended questions. Open ended questions allow parents and caregivers to gauge what the child already knows. These questions can look different for each family but examples include, “what have you heard?” or “what questions do you have?” Additionally, it is important to communicate in age and developmentally appropriate ways. For example, you may want to first find out what your child knows about a broader concept (e.g., “What is a protest?” or “Why do people protest?”) so you are better able to provide any missing information.
- Other example questions include:
- How do you think the people who are protesting feel?
- How do you feel about it?
- What do you do when you think something is unfair?
When having these conversations, it is important to be clear, direct and factual. Use clear language – for example, it is less helpful to say: “People are upset because some groups treat other groups unfairly.” Instead, say “This is about the way that white people treat black people unfairly.” However, you know your child best and depending on their disposition (e.g., is my child a chronic worrier?), you can choose how specific you want to be about these issues or when the right time is to bring up these topics. With that being said, the goal is to not shy away from the facts of racial violence, but instead be more or less specific on the details of the topic based on your child’s existing knowledge or comfort level discussing the topic.
Validate your child’s feelings and give them appropriate reassurances. Children can have many emotional reactions to dealing with the uncomfortable or unsettling topics on the news. Be sure to validate their feelings (e.g., “It makes sense that you feel outraged by these events. I do too.”). This gives children security and comfort and will help you, as the parent or caregiver, achieve better conversational outcomes. Helpful validation starters include, “I hear you,” “I understand,” or “It makes sense that..”
Additionally, you can give your child time to process the new information by utilizing relevant tactics to help them comprehend the situation better. For example, drawing, painting, or acting out stories with toys can all be helpful tools for children in the expression of their thoughts and feelings related to the news.
During these conversations, caregivers should reassure their children, but must also be cautious about making promises they cannot keep. For example, if your child is feeling worried, reiterate to them “Remember that I am always doing my best to keep you safe” or explain the ways in which they can keep themselves safe (e.g., stay near a trusted adult or avoid police activity without an adult present).
Ultimately, children pick up on cues from adults, and parents/caregivers must model appropriate reactions to the events on the news. Information should be shared calmly and concisely with your child. This helps model for your child that they can feel comfortable discussing hard topics with you. Being calm doesn’t mean that parents need to hide all of their feelings – it is important for your child to see that you are human and have feelings too! It is also okay to take time for yourself to process what you are seeing before you discuss with your child. This helps to show that these are topics that are of serious concern to you too.
If you and your children embrace these conversations, consider taking action as a family activity:
- Read diverse books together
- Write letters to government officials
- Support local businesses or assist in charitable efforts
These are just a few examples of activities that create positive change both for your family and the world, and shows your child that positive contributions can be made to help people during these difficult times!
- Talking with children about current events: Starting conversations about racism, violence, and justice by Balaguru, S & Breidenstine, A –https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1tMxjMLc9HD2b8GKNrAZMb2A5IQ6Xa0w7puUB0CiTR4E/edit#slide=id.g88df4116b5_0_80
- How to talk to children about difficult news: https://www.apa.org/topics/talking-children
- Explaining the news to our kids: https://www.commonsensemedia.org/blog/explaining-the-news-to-our-kids
- New York Times: These books can help you explain racism and protest to your kids: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/02/parenting/kids-books-racism-protest.html
- How to help kids handle the news: https://childmind.org/article/racism-and-violence-how-to-help-kids-handle-the-news/