I’m still a bit shocked by the events of the last week. A crowd attacked the U.S. Capitol while the people who are 1st (the Vice President), 2nd (The Speaker of the House), and 3rd (the Senate President Pro Tempore) in the line of presidential succession were in the building. If we are disturbed by the events that are going around us you can rest assured that our children pick up on these same feelings and they may or may not have the same skillset for managing how they feel and experience such news and events.
As a pastor and chaplain, it is not uncommon to be asked “how should I talk about these subjects with my kids?” I’ll begin by saying I am by no means an expert on this matter. I am just a minister who has dealt with many difficult circumstances and has dealt with the ramifications of people, both young and old, receiving and dealing with information about such circumstances.
That’s why when I heard NPR’s Upfirst episode this weekend concerning how to discuss such events with our kids I thought I would share the podcast episode (HERE) and summarize its contents. On a side note, if you like podcasts I would recommend Upfirst to you. It is a short (10-15 minutes) daily episode concerning news that matters for the day, plus a longer weekend edition on a specific subject that relates to the week.
Here are the main suggestions of the podcast for dealing with scrary news with the children that are in our lives.
- Limit their exposure to breaking news – If you have the news on 24/7 they are going to hear it no matter what you do. Control the amount of information they hear or see.
- For big stories, ask: “What have you heard and how are you feeling?” – Limiting doesn’t mean avoiding.
- Give kids facts and context – We all know that in the heat of the moment lots of things are said and reported which are at best speculation, only share with your kids what we know to be facts (from trusted sources). Saying “we don’t know right now” is your friend.
- When they ask why something happened, avoid labels like “bad guys.” – instead talk about people being in pain, being angry, and making bad and wrong choices.
- Encourage kids to process the story through play and art – kids often process through art. Let them.
- “Look for the helpers” – Fred Rodgers famously said “When something scary is happening, look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” Mr. Rodgers knew of which he was speaking.
- Take positive action together – Do something that helps. Even small things make a difference. Give some money, do an action, attend something that is helpful, write someone a note, etc.
So many of these suggestions ring true to me from my own experience as a parent and as a minister. Personally, I am still haunted by some of the drawings made by the kids we worked with after Hurricane Katrina displaying their experience of their homes being flooded. But I also know those drawings helped them to process what they were going through..
If you would rather read than listen to the discussion on these suggestions you can find the same basic information in this NOW article “- What To Say To Kids When The News Is Scary. Our children pick up on the things going on around them and us. We need to be proactive in helping them to understand and handle such events without being overwhelmed with fear.