"Children think about the news very differently from adults. News to kids is not just tragic events or disasters; instead they define it to include their entire lives.
"They also interpret the news in personal ways. For example, when young children watch or listen to news reports about crime, bombings, and hurricanes, they may worry about their own safety. Because young children are not able to fully understand cause and effect and distance, it's hard for them to make distinctions between an immediate threat and one that is far away."
Diane Levin, Ph.D.
Professor of Education, Wheelock College. Co-Author, The War Play Dilemma.
Talking about the news with kids happens in everyday moments. Children ask questions in the car on the way to school, in between pushes on the swings, and just when you're trying to rush out the door. In one breath, they'll ask about a range of topics — from the weather to the president to the latest war. And when difficult questions come up, parents wonder how to respond.
To help the conversation along, this article offers flexible suggestions for answering kids' questions about the news. There is no script to follow but these strategies can help you tune in to what your child is thinking and feeling and talk it through together.
Start by finding out what your child knows. When a news topic comes up, ask an open-ended question to find out what she knows like "What have you heard about it?" This encourages your child to let you know what she is thinking.
Ask a follow up question. Depending on your child's comments, ask another question to get him thinking, such as "Why do you think that happened?" or "What do you think people should do to help?"
Explain simply. Give children the information they need to know in a way that makes sense to them. At times, a few sentences are enough. "A good analogy is how you might talk about sex," adds Nancy Carlsson-Paige, Ed. D. "You obviously wouldn't explain everything to a 5-year-old. Talking about violence and safety is similar."
Listen and acknowledge. If a child talks about a news event (like a local robbery or kidnapping) and is worried,recognize her feeling and comfort her. You might say "I can see you're worried, but you are safe here. Remember how we always lock our doors." This acknowledges your child's feelings, helps her feel secure, and encourages her to tell you more.
Offer reassurance. When a child is exposed to disturbing news, she may worry about her safety. To help her calm down, offer specific examples that relate to her environment like, "That hurricane happened far away but we've never had a hurricane where we live." Actions speak louder than words — so show your child how you lock the door if she gets scared by a news report about robbers, point out the gutters and storm drains if a hurricane story causes fear, and explain what the security guards do at the airport after a story about terrorists.
Tailor your answer to your child's age. The amount of information children need changes age by age. "A kindergartner may feel reassured simply knowing a hurricane is thousands of miles away. An older child may want to know how hurricanes could affect the place where he lives and may want to know what is being done to help those in need. Both ages will be reassured by doing something to help," notes Jane Katch, M.S.T., author of They Don't Like Me: Lessons on Bullying and Teasing from a Preschool Classroom.