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Talking with Kids about news

Home » Age-by-Age Insights »

School Age: 6 - 8

Father talking to son

How Much Do I Tell Them?

"While children this age do begin to think more logically about events, they still don't need to know everything that is going on. If your child is watching, reading, or listening to the news (even accidentally), you may need to remind him how far away the violence is or how rare certain crimes really are.

"Be prepared for questions to come up at any time, not just after news exposure. If your child asks specific questions about the casualties of war, you might need to tell him that people do get hurt and killed in wars, and describe how this makes you feel.

"Give kids the concrete information they need to understand why they are safe (like the lightning rod will protect you from the lightning). However, they don't always need the whole truth in detail."

Diane Levin, Ph.D.

Professor of Education, Wheelock College. Co-Author, The War Play Dilemma.

What They Understand about the News

School-age children experience a shift in thinking about news and current events. They not only have questions about "What is happening in MY world," but also begin to ask, "What is happening in THE world?" However, this shift in thinking is gradual and each child will make this transition in his own way.

While school-age children do begin to understand events in context, they often understand them one piece at a time and become scared by what they see and hear. For example, a child may know, intellectually, that the police car speeding by with flashing lights and its siren blaring isn't going to do anything to him, but he may still duck. This is because his intellectual awareness is not integrated with his emotional response, and he still feels scared.

As school-age children become ready to understand events in the news, this becomes a time for limited media exposure and good follow-up discussions, "A child might ask questions about news she heard in school or might ask to watch something on the news. These are signs that a child is ready for some limited exposure," notes Jane Katch, M.S.T.

Signs of Stress

When exposed to disturbing events on the news, some children this age may have nightmares and act out aggressive behaviors at home or school. While some remain unaffected by disturbing news, others may become clingy and have trouble saying goodbye, lose interest in schoolwork, or complain about stomachaches or fatigue. Others may become rowdy at school or have angry outbursts at home.

At this stage, children view the news in personal terms. In reaction to a local news story about a shooting, school-age children might imagine that this could happen to them. After hearing a news report about kidnappers, a child might have trouble sleeping because he fears a kidnapper could take him out of his room.

"Some children may develop peculiar or unusual rituals or even phobias in reaction to seeing violent events on the news," says Susanna Neumann, Ph.D. "I treated a child who couldn't wear a red shirt after seeing a violent attack on TV. We discovered that the color red reminded him of the blood. This does not mean that children this age should be shielded from all news. Instead, parents should be aware how much children can be affected by the news they see."

Media Recommendations

Most children between 6 and 8 are not ready for full exposure to TV and radio news reports. Turn off your TVs and radios when truly disturbing news is played.

Limited exposure is recommended. Listening to or reading the news selectively with your child encourages him to gain an understanding of events. Discuss significant news stories such as the Sandy Hook shooting or Hurricane Sandy with your school-age children, in developmentally appropriate ways. "You might listen to or read about these events in limited doses, together. Whether you like it or not, your school-age child is likely to find out about news from other friends at school. And your school-age child is also becoming developmentally ready to understand these events. That's why age-appropriate viewing and discussion are recommended."

Listen to the news instead of watching it. For this age group, experts do recommend reading about or listening to the news over watching graphic images on TV. "The problem is you don't know what images will be on TV news, so having conversations with children about events in the news or looking at newspapers with them is probably safest," adds Nancy Carlsson-Paige, Ed. D. co-author of The War Play Dilemma.

Communication Strategies

Discuss important news with your school-age child. It's recommended that you DO bring up the subject of war, violence, and environmental disasters on the news with your older child. This is particularly important if you know your child has been (or is likely to be) exposed to some disturbing events on the news.

Find out what your child knows already. You might initiate a conversation by saying, "Have you heard anything about the shootings in Newtown, Connecticut or Hurricane Sandy?" or "Are people saying anything at school about the violence at that shopping mall?" If your child says "Yes," talk about what she knows, and answer her questions with age-appropriate information. On the other hand, if your child says "No," you might say "well if you hear about it and want to discuss it, let me know" or describe the event in an age-appropriate way, depending on the circumstances.

Reassure your child that he is safe. Some kids will ask about how news events relate to them, in very specific ways. Others may express concerns about their parents' and family's safety, and adults need to respond in very specific terms, being honest but not discussing every detail. Describe all the things that are being done to keep everyone safe — the guards at the airport, the police on the street, the fire fighters at a fire.

Don't over-correct or over-explain. School age children will often construct "versions of the truth" in their retelling of an incident. It's not necessary to tell them they are wrong and correct them, unless their version will cause them extra concerns.

Follow the news with your child. To help kids stay connected to the world and learn about their place in it, experience it together. Read on the web or newspapers, listen to the radio, and watch TV news (but be selective!). Monitoring the news together and discussing it helps a child follow a cycle of events, such as elections, sports, weather, and environmental changes.

Encourage your child to learn more. If your child shows interest in a particular issue, you might suggest she research it further. Expose your child to a variety of types of sources. Go beyond daily news by reading web sites, history books and magazines. "This research should grow out of your child's interests, not from an adult-imposed agenda. This process can also be an opportunity to talk about how people are working in the world to solve a problem on the news and to ask your child what he might do about it," adds Diane Levin, Ph.D.

NEXT: Older Kids

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