"Age-appropriate conversations about news-related issues keep children interested in and informed about the world. The topics can (and should) vary. It's important to discuss fun news events — like who won the World Series — as well as the more serious topics. One of my favorite teachers used to ask her kindergarten class every week if anyone had heard any issues on the news they wanted to talk about. But she wouldn't just focus on the horrible things; she would talk about the weather, sports events, and movies too."
Diane Levin, Ph.D.
Professor of Education, Wheelock College. Co-Author, The War Play Dilemma
Sometimes —even if your kids don't want to talk about the news— it's important to find a way to talk anyway.
These conversations are particularly useful if the news has a direct effect on your children's life , such as when security at the airport increases before a family trip. Discussions about disturbing events are equally important —for example when a hurricane displaces thousands of people or a local crime causes panic in the community. Talking about wars, elections, and even holidays helps children gain an awareness of the world around them and their place within it.
When to have these discussions depends on the age and stage of your child. While you might be concerned about starting a conversation with a child as young as five, be aware that kids this age are likely to hear about the news at school or on the playground even if they don't watch or read it at home. And they will be less anxious hearing about disturbing news if they have heard it from you first.
Initiating a discussion with kids over the age of eight presents its own set of challenges, particularly if your older child's response is "We talked about it at school, already!" Be aware that some children will be anxious to talk about current events while others may show little interest. Take the lead from your child on how detailed a conversation should be or how long it should last. "You don't need to put pressure on your older kids," says Diane Levin, Ph.D., "but you might simply reply, 'well what did you talk about?'"
While specific events may change, the conversational themes remain the same. And the amount of interest in the news increases with age. The discussion-starters below, suggested by advisors Jane Katch and Diane Levin, are presented by topic —with suggestions on what to ask, what to listen for, how to soothe, and how to keep the conversation going.