Support for PBS Parents provided by:


  • Cat in the Hat
  • Curious George
  • Daniel Tiger
  • Dinosaur Train
  • Peg + Cat
  • Sid the Science Kid
  • Super Why!
  • Wild Kratts
  • Martha Speaks
  • The Electric Company
  • WordGirl
  • Thomas & Friends
  • Cyberchase
  • Arthur
  • Sesame Street
  • Between the Lions
  • Mama Mirabelle
  • Caillou
  • Chuck Vanderchuck
  • Oh Noah
  • Fetch!
  • Fizzy's Lunch Lab
  • Maya & Miguel
  • Mister Rogers
  • Postcards from Buster
  • Clifford
  • SciGirls
  • Wilson & Ditch
  • WordWorld
  • DragonFly TV
  • ZOOM
 

Talking with Kids about news

Home » Discussion Starters »

Pick a Topic


Choose a theme and find out how to get the conversation going.

Jump to:

 

Crime, School Violence, and Shootings

What to Ask:

"There's been some news this week about _________ (insert event). Is anyone at school talking about it? What are kids saying?"

If your children have not heard about this news, explain the event simply, telling them just what they need to know, why they are safe, and what is being done to stop the violence and solve the crime.

Keep in Mind:

These events should be discussed in age-appropriate ways. Young children are mostly worried about whether they will be safe and if the people they love will be all right. Older children will share these concerns but have more specific questions. For example, in the case of an event like Sandy Hook, you could reassure a younger child that his school is safe and that this happened many miles away. However an older child might need a more detailed description in order to be reassured. He might want to find out exactly what happened and understand why a student would commit such a violent act. He may also relate this event specifically to his own school and talk about other kids he knows and the security systems in place.

War, Violence, and Security

What to Ask:

"There's been a lot on the news lately about war and soldiers. What have you heard?"

If your child has not heard about this news yet, explain the event simply. For example, if explaining heightened airport security measures due to a foiled terrorist plot, you might start by asking a 6-year old, "Do you know where England is?" And then explain, "Thousands of miles away, some bad people tried to hurt others on airplanes. They were caught. Now when we go to the airport we can't bring water from home with us because these people were using water bottles in bad ways."

With an older child, you might need to explain more details and review everything being done to keep him safe. Be prepared for questions like "How would the terrorists use the chemicals in the water bottles? Could they really blow up a plane? What exactly were they putting in the water? How do we know we are safe here?" In response, point out specific ways authorities are keeping us safe at the airport and in our communities.

Keep in Mind:

Children relate events like these to themselves and what they already know. Many young children do not understand how far "far away" is. Because they see a war or violent event on TV, they may think it's happening here — even in their living room. Older children will know the event is not happening in their home but won't know how far away the event is taking place.

Weather and Environmental News

What to Ask:

"There was a big storm in ______________ this week. Have you seen it on the news? What have you heard about it?"

Explain the situation in age-appropriate ways, mentioning how many people may have been displaced, where an event took place, how many miles away it was, what is being done to help the victims, and why you are safe at home. You might also ask, "What would you like to do to help?" and make constructive suggestions.

Keep in Mind:

Children young and old want to know what is being done to protect them.

"Discussing environmental concerns with very young children can be tricky," notes Jane Katch, M.S.T. "I know one 5-year-old who couldn't look at an airplane in the sky without worrying that it was polluting the world. We want children to enjoy their world first, so they can then understand they need to work to keep it beautiful! When you have these conversations, focus on specific actions children can take: recycling and reusing materials, picking up trash, and turning off lights and computers."

Holidays

What to Ask:

Pick a holiday and start by asking what children know. You might say, "Do you know why we have a special day off for Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday?" Or, "What do you know about Veterans or Labor Day?" If your children groan and say, "We talked about it in school already," try telling a family story about the holiday. If you're talking about Veteran's Day, explain what a parent or grandparent did in the war — or describe a time when you went to a parade or march that commemorated the holiday.

Keep in Mind:

Holidays can be a good opportunity to talk with children about your family's values and traditions. Your questions about what they learned in school offer children an opportunity to show you what they already know. They are also a good starting point for discussions about war and peace, bravery and freedom. Books about specific holidays and figures in history can be good conversation starters as well, particularly those that describe their childhoods.

Car Accidents

What to Ask:

"Did you see that accident or hear the news about it?" Depending on the response, describe the event simply. You might also explain, "That's why you wear a seat belt to keep you safe," or "That's why I drive safely and don't speed," or (for a younger child) "That's why we hold hands when we cross the street."

Keep in Mind:

Children feel reassured when they know what to do to prevent these accidents and what to do in the case of emergencies. Reviewing simple safety rules help a child feel in control rather than frightened.

Death and Terminal Illness

What to Ask:

These are delicate conversations. When deaths are reported on the news, children may get upset. But they don't always verbalize their feelings. It may be useful to describe how you feel as you discuss the news event.

You might say, "What have you heard about people getting hurt?" and talk about your emotional response. "If a young child says ‘I hear that children got killed in Lebanon' you might say, ‘Yes that's true and that really upsets me. It makes me sad that grown-ups are fighting. And that's why I am glad you are here where children are safe.'" "Showing a human response is what's most important in these instances," advises Diane Levin, Ph.D.

Keep in Mind:

By age four, children begin to think about what death means. Even when responding to a death on the news, children can become very worried about their own death and the death of those they love. Provide opportunities to talk together, and listen carefully to see how much information the child wants to know."It's all right for you to show that you are upset as long as you can make it clear that you are taking care of your child's needs, too," adds Jane Katch, M.S.T.

Celebrities

What to Ask:

Like it or not, older kids enjoy talking about celebrities. These discussions can be positive opportunities for discussion about behavior and values.

Start by finding out what your child knows (which may be plenty). Depending on the story, you can ask your child what he thinks about a celebrity's behavior and why. To help your child think about an issue, you might say, "I'm upset so many stars have gotten involved in drugs and try to be so skinny. This is not healthy," and see how your child responds.

Keep in Mind:

Because celebrities are held up as role models, it can be valuable to talk about them. A child looking at the cover of a popular fan magazine on a newsstand will no doubt spot a story about celebrity diets or drug use. These present opportunities to discuss healthy approaches to eating, and the dangers of drugs. And when celebrities die, this is chance to help your children to talk about death and loss.

Elections

What to Ask:

Whether the election is local or national, you can start by asking "what do you know about it?" Based on the age of your child, you may want to discuss the candidates' positions and backgrounds with an appropriate amount of detail. You might also talk about the process of voting, what we accomplish by it and how it works.

Keep in Mind:

Children of all ages may benefit from going to the polls with you or helping you fill out absentee and electronic ballots.

Your discussion of the issues in an election can be geared to the age of your child. Younger children will begin to understand how elected officials make decisions about what's happening in your community and how political decisions affect the local environment (roads, parks, garbage pick-up, recycling, etc.). Older kids can understand more complex issues — you can discuss the policies of elected officials, what is happening as a result of these policies, and how a democracy works.

Support for PBS Parents provided by: