I was hanging out with my two little granddaughters this past holiday weekend and keeping an eye on the approaching weather. I found myself facing a challenge that I am sure many parents with young children face daily: remaining updated on current events without needlessly frightening the little ones.
Let’s face it—bad news sells. Sensationalized news with all the ugly details “spelled out” sells even better. So how do we protect our children from bad news yet seize the teachable moments when newscasters report on the outcome of someone’s bad choice? How do we stay informed about potentially dangerous weather without the little ones hearing the warnings and “freaking out”?
It’s a balancing act!
First of all, just like every other aspect of parenting, the age of the child should determine how much information she is allowed to view. It is extremely important that we are aware of information children are viewing as well as their understanding of what they are viewing. Children often overhear things, see things we do not know they have seen, or digest news from a misinformed classmate or friend.
For children under the age of six, it is best to shield them from bad news as much as possible. If they do view bad news or if something touches their lives personally, it is very important that we separate fact from fiction. Young children have very vivid imaginations, and they often imagine things much differently than reality. Keep the facts simple and honest. Offer frequent reminders of how the news affects THEM. Remind them that they are safe by repeating such statements as, “We are safe,” “I am going to be right here with you,” and “The tornado is not close to us.” Our words are very comforting to them. State the obvious. They need to HEAR you say things that you might think they already know.
For older children, it is very important to know how they understand news and events. Create an environment that encourages your child to open up so that you know what he is facing internally. If he will talk about what he has heard or seen, you can replace irrational fears with facts.
Adults must be informed about dangerous weather, current events, and possible threats. However, it is also our responsibility to make sure that children are exposed only to information that is necessary for them to know. What you tell your child depends on her age, emotional personality, and your philosophy regarding the matter.
Here are a few hints that might help when dealing with sensitive matters:
1. If you are listening to weather radio about approaching weather, use headphones to ensure that you are informed yet keeps your children from hearing repeated warnings that may not pertain to your area.
2. Turn on a TV in another room so that you can keep your eye on the situation without children seeing it or hearing about it.
3. Watch the weather on your computer rather than on TV so that children are not frightened by it.
4. Watch the nightly news after young children have gone to bed.
5. If you allow your children to watch the news, talk about what they observed. Get them to tell you about it so you can know how they understood what they saw.
6. If your child asks about a sensitive subject, give her a direct, concise, and honest answer…but only for the one question that she asked. Do not overload her with information. It is simply too confusing.
7. Seize the teachable moments. If something seems to really impact your children, look for ways to bring it into their everyday lives and build teachable moments around that matter. For example, if they are worried about what would happen if your home is flooded, get them involved in helping flood victims. Show them how people help those in their community. Show them how families stick together in tough times. Continue to find opportunities to demonstrate what happens AFTER a family experiences a traumatic event.
It IS a balancing act! An event that you think is a good life-lesson might be very upsetting to your child. Or your child appears to hardly notice something that you thought she would be very moved by. It is often tough to predict her response. The one thing we know for sure is that communication is the key to ANY good relationship. Keeping the lines of communication open with your children is the foundation needed for dealing with ALL issues. The issues only get more complicated as they grow and develop, so an early start helps. As parents and caregivers, we can help children deal with the stressors of bad news if we build a strong relationship that allows them to open up about their fears, concerns, and worries.