When Bad News Rocks Your Kids’ World

Family Counseling Insights brought to you by California Psychotherapeutic Resources, Inc.

You don’t have to search the news very hard to find some events that are outright shocking. In fact, if you have a news channel tuned in on the TV or a newspaper lying on the dinner table, it can actually be hard to avoid. If you’re a parent with younger children or even teens, you might sense that these events are really disturbing your kids’ world.

Protesters facing off with police

“Troubling current events can be upsetting and confusing to children,” says Angela Hatem in an article on National Geographic’s website. “Although adults have the cognitive skills to process sudden news-making events like mass shootings, violent protests, plane crashes, and natural disasters, a child’s brain usually isn’t developed enough to quite make sense of something that doesn’t seem right.”

That lack of coherence in news events can lead to anxiety. While some parents might be tempted to simply ignore the news and hope for the best, that can negatively affect how a child understands the world over the long term.

Fortunately, there are several steps that parents can take to help their children make sense of what are clearly upsetting situations. After interviewing a variety of experts on the subject, Hatem offers the following advice:

  • Children under seven have trouble distinguishing reality from fantasy. Consequently, parents should use very basic language and simple concepts, such as “Everyone deserves to be safe and loved.”
  • Children a bit older can understand more nuance. So parents can introduce more advanced concepts such as differences in skin color.
  • Before parents begin a discussion, find out what a child knows — “Have you heard of X, Y or Z?”
  • Keep conversations brief. Give children time to process what you’re telling them.
  • Middle-school-age children may be getting a lot of information from their peers, so it’s especially important for parents to find out what they think they know about an event before beginning a discussion.
  • Consider empowering your children by developing a safety plan, for example, for coping with natural disasters like hurricanes. Empowering children can take other forms as well — Have them write sympathy cards for people affected by a disaster in the news.

Read the entire National Geographic article here.