"The most important thing is to have open, honest, and age-appropriate conversations; and to make them part of every day life. Creating an ongoing relationship with your child around issues in the news makes it normal for your kids to discuss upsetting or confusing events. When you do this, they see you as someone to help sort things out. You are also exposing them to the real world and helping them grow up to be informed, knowledgeable citizens who keep up with the news."
Diane Levin, Ph.D.
Professor of Education, Wheelock College. Co-Author, The War Play Dilemma.
Pay attention to your feelings. Children will look to you for a reaction, so it's important to discuss how an event makes both of you feel. For example, if your child asks you about people being injured in a tsunami or other natural disaster, you might say, "I feel sad those people got hurt. Would you like to do something to help?" They will also pick up on your anxiety, which can be contagious.
Clear up confusion. At times, children get misinformation from friends or don't understand all the words in a news story. If this happens, it's important to address the confusion in a non-judgmental way . If a 5-year-old hears a news report about a plane carrying bombs, she might ask 'Do all airplanes have bombs?'. And that's both a factual question and perhaps something she is worried about," says Nancy Carlsson-Paige, Ed. D. "In response you might say, 'No, just some planes carry bombs, but not the planes our family goes on.'" The point is not to "correct" children's statements and make them feel wrong, but instead to add information to clear up misunderstandings.
Discuss your child's interpretation. Children often view the world in simplistic terms — everything is good or bad, black or white — but leave little room for gray. Rather than telling a child she is wrong, or correcting her with your own right answer, try asking specific questions. This encourages your child to elaborate on her ideas, make connections and become a critical, independent thinker. "Her ability to think through it herself will also help her contain and diminish anxiety," says Susanna Neumann, Ph.D., a psychotherapist who worked with families affected by 9/11.
Talk again. Be prepared for children to ask the same question many times. This means they are continuing to think about the issue and may need more information. You might save some information for later discussions.
Extend the learning. Talking about the news provides spontaneous opportunities for learning. "For example, if you're discussing storms and hurricanes, you can look at maps to point out where events are occurring and discuss the causes. Together, you can learn about geography, science, and where you live," says teacher Jane Katch.