How to Talk to Your Children About the News

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’” – Mr. Rogers

The news is everywhere, and children are becoming consumers of the news at younger and younger ages. Not all information is factual, and children might have a difficult time distinguishing between what is real and what is false. Children might also be frightened by things they hear from peers or news outlets. By age level, here are the things parents should focus on when discussing the news with their children.

Children Under 7
  • Keep the news off – children in the age group developmentally do not need to be seeing the news. Wait until children are in bed to get your nightly fix. Keep any pictures that might be violent or distressing out of sight of children, that includes things on the internet! Make sure your computers and tablets have child protections in place that include news channels. 
  • Emphasize that your family is safe – If your child does hear about a tragedy in the news, highlight to your child that your family is safe. Clear up any misconceptions that your child may have about what happened. Although we as adults know that chances are low, your child only needs to know that this won’t happen to them. Children are very black and white at this stage, and might be fearful if they think there’s even a tiny chance of something bad happening to them. 
  • Teach basic safety skills – 
    • Beginning at age 4, knowing how to call 911. Children should know how to call from a parent’s cell phone, and know to answer questions as best they can, without hanging up. 
    • Know address and phone numbers at age 3. Children can best learn this through a made up song. 
    • Know names of parents. 
Children 8-12
  • Ask what they know – they’re getting a lot of information and misinformation at school at this age, so ask first what they know, and correct any misconceptions. 
  • Allow them to ask questions – and answer in an age appropriate way. Take into account your child’s sensitivity. What is right for one child is not for another child.
  • Talk about the news, but filter coverage – Children of this age do not need to see the grisly photographs, but they can know about what is going on in the world in a discussion. 
  • Talk about what you can do to help – they can send politicians post cards or attend an event with you. Encouraging them to help will let them feel as though they are making a difference in the world. 
  • Have a plan – making a disaster or safety plan with your child will give them a sense of control. 
  • Acknowledge feelings – Big feelings during tragedies are a normal and valid reaction. Allow your child to mourn and question when bad things happen. Be comforting but also accepting.
Teens
  • Be open – check in with them and allow them to express their opinions. It’s ok to state yours, as long as you’re not shutting down your teen’s ideas.
  • Let them develop – Teenagers are creating their own morality at this stage, and it’s important for them to question and challenge ideas. Within this questioning is growth, and identifying who they are as a person.
  • Encourage activism – Teens can participate in their world even more than younger children. They can attend meetings and events, and raise awareness about issues that are important to them.
  • Do the same things you would do with younger children, but at their developmental level. Some teenagers might need reassurance from their parents. Some might need an action plan. Be open and aware of your teen’s feelings so that you can do what’s best for them.

No matter what the age of your child, watch for significant and lasting behavioral change from your child when they’ve heard about a tragedy. If these steps are not working to reassure and help your child feel safe, it might be time to seek some professional help. 

Questions? Contact Michelle at [email protected]

By: Michelle Beyer, LPC-Intern
Supervised by Karen Burke, LPC-S, RPT-S