By Emily Talbott, LISW-S
It’s an understatement to say that there’s been a lot of tricky things to explain to our children over the past few years. Just when I was starting to get used to talking to my kids about the pandemic, the hateful political climate in our country, and other world events, Russia invades Ukraine; and my kids have questions. Lots of questions. I also have questions, and big feelings about what’s happening, and I don’t want my thoughts and feelings to become my childrens’. I want them to have their own, but how much should they know in the first place? Let’s explore a general framework for navigating kids' exposure to upsetting events.
Limit the amount of news you consume around your children so that it doesn’t become overwhelming for either of you. Make sure that if your kids are watching/listening to the news, you are there with them so that you can help process the information to make sure that it is understood properly. Ask your kids what they just heard. Ask them what the information means to them? How do they feel about what they just learned? Clarify confusion using age appropriate explanations. We want to teach our kids how to think, not what to think. Talking about difficult events can help kids learn about their world and how they want to think about it. We are actually preparing them for adulthood during these challenging moments.
If your child is around another caregiver who watches/listens to the news around your child, share this information with them. Make sure to follow up with your child if you know they had a difficult time hearing/understanding something on the news when you weren’t with them. Assure them that their caregiver can answer questions if there is anything they are worried about when you aren’t there.
Avoid graphic images whenever possible:
Be cautious about what you are viewing on your TV, phone, or computer. If your kids are anything like mine, they are constantly trying to see what you’re watching, regardless of the device. If your child does see a disturbing image, let your kids know that you are monitoring what’s going on in the world and you will keep them safe. It’s not their responsibility to monitor what’s going on. Follow Mr. Roger’s guidance to point out the helpers in scary situations. Assure your child that you are their helper.
Be mindful of adult conversations:
We often think our kids are oblivious when we’re having “boring” adult conversations around them. If you think your child may have heard you talking about the news, check in with them. “What did you hear when I was talking to Grandma?” “What questions do you have about that?”
Prepare them for misinformation:
In times of turmoil, let your child know that they may hear people say things that might not be true. Our kids may be hearing other kids’ interpretations of what they heard their parents talking about, or what they saw in passing on TV. Encourage your kids to come to you with questions if they hear anything that worries them.
Answer questions honestly:
As parents we want our kids to feel safe, and answering questions honestly may have the opposite effect in the moment. You can reassure your child that you will keep them safe as best you can, while validating that this information doesn’t make them feel good. Sometimes, you might not even have an answer, honest or otherwise. Let them know that you don’t have the information they are seeking, but that you will try to find out for them. If finding an answer isn’t possible, talk to your kids about the fact that sometimes no one has the answers, at least not right this minute. Validate how hard it can be to not know.
I highly recommend Dr. Becky Kennedy, a child psychologist, who shares practical parenting tips on Instagram, her website and podcast, Good Inside.
“A Guide to Talking About Hard Truths.”