The news has been filled with devastating traumatic events lately. Maybe it’s always like that, but it seems worse. It seems like it is hitting harder. Relentlessly beating against our screens with their earth shattering images. It’s terrorizing and heartbreaking and merciless. It is hard enough for those with stable histories and mental health to face the constant onslaught of brutal news. It can be completely devastating and crushing for those with trauma history or sensitivities. As parents we need to be especially careful with our children.
8 Essential Tips For Talking To Kids About The News
Lately, it feels like the world is sandpaper, constantly rubbing against my spirit, leaving raw, weeping wounds in it’s wake. Every time I open my computer or check the news it’s filled with so much negativity, loss and death. The news triggers anxiety responses in me almost daily. It’s eating at me. And if it’s eating at me, I know I need to be especially vigilant at protecting and helping my children through these hard times. Here are my tips for talking to kids about the news.
My oldest is gifted. He understands the world in a way he is emotionally and cognitively not ready to process. From a very, very young age we realized we could not have the news on around him. As he grew, even though we tried to protect him, he still took in so much information around him. You simply can’t protect them. As much as I would love to raise my children in a world of rainbows, fairies and unicorns, I know that’s not possible. Eventually, he developed a severe anxiety disorder and OCD. He knew too much, took in too much.
Tip #1 – As much as we want to, we simply can’t protect them from the news and world events.
For a long time we tried to lock down what he saw and experienced as much as possible. We failed miserably most of the time. Especially when he was in school. Thankfully, by the time he was 9 years old, he was developing the emotional capacity to start discussing his fears and things he would see or hear in the news that would trigger his anxiety.
Tip #2 – Even if they have the vocabulary and intelligence, they may not have the emotional capacity to truly understand or discuss certain issues.
Now that he is able, we can discuss these topics but we need to tread carefully. We answer all his questions, as fully and honestly as we can. Some of these conversations can last for hours. They are hard. These topics are hard. Hatred is nonsensical. Accidents and death are hard to comprehend as an adult. The news is too often filled with sensationalism and graphic scenes. Talking to your child about the news is one of the hardest things a parent can do. I leave these conversations drained and exhausted from their intensity and the unrelenting nature of childhood curiosity.
Give me the sex talk any day of the week. Sex makes sense. Hatred and murder doesn’t.
Tip #3 – Don’t rush the conversations or brush off their questions. Spend as much time as they need helping the child explore and understand hard topics.
He is ten now and we have deep discussions almost every day. These discussions are hard, they are long, and I need to always be cautious to ensure I am giving him the facts, answering his questions honestly, and if we need more information, finding quality sources to get him the right information.
Tip #4 – It will be draining and hard on you. Take care of yourself too.
My tip for parents of gifted, advanced or curious kids is to make the time and space to help your children through these tough subjects. Don’t sugar coat or make up answers (ie. boys do not hit girls because they “like them”). If you don’t know the answer, say so. Knowing that we don’t have all the answers is actually a good thing for kids to learn. We are all on a journey of discovery. Working through information and knowledge is part of growth. Take the time to help your child, it’s one of the best investments you can make.
Tip #5 – Be honest and don’t make up answers.
When it comes to my youngest, with his trauma history and resulting PTSD and developmental delays, we face a very different struggle. He is younger, only 7 years old and developmentally closer to 5 years old. With him we are still protecting and shielding him as much as possible. But that window is rapidly closing. He is starting to pick up things and ask the hard questions.
Tip #6 – Focus on helping them feel safe and create a safe environment for them to process hard things.
With him, our first and most important goal is to help him feel safe. Although we need to help both our boys feel safe, it’s even more important for a child with trauma history to know safety. That needs to be the focus in everything we do when the brutality of the world is pushing in against us. He needs to know that even though bad things are happening, even though bad things have happened to him in the past, right now, right here, he is safe.
One way to help demonstrate safety is to share your emergency preparedness plans and how you’ve taken steps to prepare your family and home for an emergency.
Tip #7 – Keep your explanations developmentally appropriate.
Language is a struggle for our youngest son, trauma took much of his language comprehension, but we always try to answer all his questions as simply as we can. We choose words that can help him understand without unnecessarily complicating the issue. We keep the ideas and thoughts short and to the point. If he needs more, he will ask more questions because he knows he is in a safe place, where he can ask questions until he understands and feels at peace on the topic.
It’s so important that we never lie or make up answers. We keep it brief and to the point.
Thankfully, he is still at an age where his attention span is short and and very quickly he moves on to other things. Those short answers are enough to satiate his curiosity, for now.
Tip #8 – Look for the root of behavioural issues to see if you can uncover the triggering event, especially for an anxious child or one with a trauma history.
If your child has a history of trauma or an anxiety disorder, it’s very important that you step back from any situation and try to find the root of any behavioural issues. Often when my boys are acting out, struggling or misbehaving it is because something has triggered them. Whether it is a trauma trigger or an anxiety trigger, something has set them off. And lately, that something is all too often a story they have seen in the news or heard about from another source. Keep in mind that the stories that hit the hardest are not always the biggest, most catastrophic ones. For a child, hearing a story about an abused dog or a car accident could be a major trigger. Keep an open mind and look for clues in their behaviours especially if they are unable to verbalize their fears.
If the news stories are hitting you hard, and your spirit is feeling raw from the constant stream of hate, loss, abuse, murder and death in the news feeds, be especially aware of how the news could be affecting your children. Keep in mind these tips for talking to kids about the news.
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