Explaining the News to Our Kids
August 17, 2006
By Liz Perle
How do we talk with our kids about the images and content of recent world events? The wall-to-wall media coverage of both the attempted plane bombings and the war in Lebanon can trigger anxieties -- especially with repetitive viewings on local news (where most kids still get their information) and on the Internet.
But depending on your kids' ages and temperaments, a good talk may be good medicine. Having kids keep scared feelings to themselves can be more emotionally damaging than open discussion, say the experts at The NYU Child Study Center.
Here are a few guidelines to help you manage the news with your family:
Reasure your children that they are safe. Tell your kids that terrorism is designed to make people afraid out of proportion to the actual danger. But remember that your kids will look to the way you handle your reactions to determine their own approaches. If you stay calm and considered, they will, too.
Keep the news away from kids under 7. Turn off the TV and radio news at the top of the hour and half hour. Read the newspaper out of range of young eyes that can be frightened by the pictures. Preschool children don't need to see or hear about something that will only scare them silly, especially because they can easily confuse facts with fantasies or fears.
At this age, kids are most concerned with your safety and separation from you. They will also respond strongly to pictures of other young children in jeopardy. Try not to minimize or discount their concerns and fears, but reassure them by explaining all the protective measures that exist to keep them safe. If you're flying somewhere with them, explain that extra security is a good thing.
For kids 8-12, carefully consider your child's maturity and temperament. Many kids can handle a discussion of threatening events, but if your children tend toward the anxious, be sure to keep them away from the TV news; repetitive images and stories can make dangers appear greater, more prevalent, and closer to home.
At this age, many kids will see the morality of events in stark black-and-white terms and are in the process of developing their moral beliefs. You may have to explain the basics of prejudice, bias, and civil and religious strife. Be careful about making generalizations, though, since kids will take what you say to the bank. This is a good time to ask them what they know, since they'lll probably have gotten their information from friends, and you may have to correct facts.
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