History will judge us by the difference we make in the everyday lives of children.
What kind of pictures of the world are children taking as they get ready to return to school? We cannot control all the news, but we should be mindful of how children observe us and how we fit into the events of what they see.
Parents may try to shield their children from bad news, but they’ll still be exposed to the world’s problems, many close to home, and it isn’t only young children who might have trouble processing bad news. Middle schoolers and teens can be affected.
Here’s a few snapshots they’re taking.
- An angry mob storming the U. S. Capitol Building, attacking police officers.
- Adults and children getting sick and going to the hospital with Covid or the Delta variant.
- Hearing about the importance of being vaccinated and wearing masks.
- Adults are screaming and rioting that they’re not going to wear masks or get vaccinated, and no one can make them.
- Ravaging fires where people lose their homes and belongings and floods that sweep cars and people away.
- A building collapse, burying those who lived there in the rubble.
- School meetings where parents angrily argue about LBGTQ rights.
- Shootings in schools, grocery stores, places of work, or your neighborhood.
- In other countries, children and adults die in bombings.
- Seeing families losing loved ones to Covid-19, illnesses, violence, or accidents.
- Parents yelling about race at school where children are supposed to be friends.
- Hearing about families losing their homes and seeing the homeless on the streets.
How do parents and adults handle the news with children? Here are ideas gathered from various sources. I welcome suggestions.
- Development. Most reports suggest trying to avoid difficult news from children until they’re seven or eight, which isn’t always easy. Young children are more likely to fantasize about an event and have difficulty separating themselves from it. They might not understand the location, and they’re egocentric and may believe they’re threatened.
- Breaking News. Try to reach young children first when something bad happens, or be there when they hear it to shield the blow.
- Set Limits. Please turn it off. Set limits on how much news children get exposure to. Go outside for a walk. Read a book together.
- Current Events. Discuss current events as a family with older children, fact-checking information, helping locate reliable sources, and thinking critically. This will help children sort facts from fiction, good skills as they get older.
- Listening. First, listen to young children and what they know about a news event. Be truthful, but don’t volunteer unnecessary information. It’s fine not to know answers to questions. Find out and tell them later, or let them know you don’t have the answer.
- Reassurance. Let children express their fears and ask questions. Try to remain calm and understand how the child is observing and making sense of what’s happening. Music, play, and doing artwork may help. Look for the helpers, as Mr. Rogers would say.
- Sharing a Story. Sometimes it might help a child hear of your facing a similar situation and how you handled it. Or a similar story, especially one where there’s a positive outcome. There are many children’s books that address the difficult issues children face.
- Empowerment. In Taking Back Childhood, Nancy Carlson-Paige discusses the importance of empowering children when they hear bad news (p. 233-235). Writing a letter, drawing and sharing a picture, taking up a collection to assist, or attending a rally might give children a feeling of control when something bad happens.
- Children and Teens of Color. In the George Floyd killing, Darnella Frazier, a 17-year-old teen, used her cell phone to record the incident. She received the Pulitzer Prize. But young children and teens and girls of color might be especially traumatized by what they see and hear on the news. They don’t feel safe and may need special counseling and support.
- LGBTQ Students. It goes without saying that LGBTQ students may face more bullying and need more support in their schools and in their communities.
- Natural Disasters. If it is a natural event that a child might face, a hurricane, earthquake, fire, flood, or tornado, help them make a family plan of action. Use the news to help build empathy in children.
- Stress. If a child shows signs of stress, not sleeping or eating, worrying about being around people, and always sad, visit a doctor or a counselor and let their teacher know.
What kind of pictures are children taking? We cannot control all the news, but as adults, how can we help improve what they see and make their lives happier and safer?
References and Resources
Carlsson-Paige, N. (2009). Taking Back Childhood: A Proven Road Map for Raising Confident, Creative, Compassionate Kids. New York: Plume Penguin Press.
Helping Children of Color Heal from Collective Trauma. Pepperdine/Online Programs. April 13, 2021.
Kamenetz, A. (2020). What To Say To Kids When The News Is Scary. NPR.
Knorr, C. Explaining the News to Our Kids. Common Sense Media.
Mooneyham, G. C. (2018). Helping your children deal with bad news. Duke Department of Pediatrics.
Nemours. Kid’s Health. How to Talk to Your Child About the News.
Resources for Families of LGBTQ+ Youth. Child Welfare Information Gateway. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Responding to Traumatic Events. The Child Mind Institute.
Talking to Kids About Racism and Violence. The Child Mind Institute.
Underwood, P. L. (2020, April 18). Is the News Too Scary for Kids? The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/18/parenting/kids-current-events.html.
Paul Bonner says
I grew up in the South during the Civil Rights unrest and Vietnam protests. My father was the principal mediator helping Chattanooga get through integration from opening the lunch counters in 1960 to busing and beyond. My mother was an outspoken advocate for the public schools and desegregation. I was aware of all of the events of the time, but it was as if I was watching from the sidelines. Somehow my parents still managed to maintain a healthy environment for my siblings and me that allowed me to explore the woods, play with friends, or wander to my elementary school 2 miles away. In 1969, Walter Cronkite announced that Chattanooga was the most polluted city in America on the evening news. What did my fello pre-teens and I do? We participated in Earth day and formed an Ecology Club that published a monthly school paper on mimeograph espousing the end to pollution. We also continued to laugh, learn and play with reckless abandon. It was the intimate community that allowed me to go out to serve the bigger world. My parents were very careful to show me the world in manageable chunks. It’s important to introduce our children to a world that struggles as long as we model ways to make it better.
Roy Turrentine says
I live about an hour and a half north east of Chattanooga. When the civil rights movement hit here, it was not so pronounced, even though prejudice and hostility existed in our rural society. My father served on the committee that attempted to see integration of schools through its most difficult period in 1965. That fall, I met some neighbors I did not know I had, and I also started going to school with old friends I already had due to the places they lived. Things went pretty smoothly.
What I did not know was the opposition that arose in my church when the minister invited the AME Church to have a joint church service with our church. My parents probably knew, but they kept that from me. I was allowed to grow up thinking about the cows and idolizing Henry Aaron. Intellectual development that produced my present political opinions took place as I proceeded through history classes in high school and college.
I do recall the smog in Chattanooga. It was a great surprise to me when I began to experience modern Chattanooga, with its fantastic aquarium and museums. Now it is a model city. Good job!
Nancy Bailey says
Another interesting recollection! It’s interesting to hear how those early experiences shaped your life. Thanks, Roy!
Nancy Bailey says
Well said, Paul! You and your parents are great examples of improving your surroundings, and Chattanooga is a beautiful city today! Thanks for sharing.