News is everywhere. In the digital age, it is no longer possible to control the news we are exposed to or shield children from upsetting information.
What you can do is help to minimise the negative impact it has on your children. You can do this through open and honest conversations at home, using the tips below:
- A news blackout is rarely helpful
The important thing here is balance. Force-feeding children news or going to great lengths to shield them from it can be unhelpful. Avoid turning the television off or closing web pages when they come into the room. This can pique their interest to find out what’s really going on – and that is when their imagination can take over.
Children are very likely to get a sense of the uncertainty or fear around what's going on, even if they’re not old enough to understand or hear about exactly what’s happening. Be careful that they don’t overhear conversations about your fears. Children pick up more than we realise and may misinterpret or keep their feelings hidden from us.
- Let them know the facts
Children may feel overwhelmed by things they’ve heard on the news, on social media or from their friends. If they are given clear and honest explanations of what is happening and know that it is okay to talk about scary or tricky subjects, it can give them the confidence to ask about them. Encourage your children to come to you with questions about what's happening.
If you don’t have the answers, be honest. Try reading or watching reputable news sources together that you have already looked at or share the news at the moment by explaining what is happening verbally in an unbiased way.
Give them practical tips on looking after themselves and others, explaining the importance of open communication, healthy relationships, and ways to cope with stress. It’s also a good opportunity to talk about the benefits of kindness.
- Discourage overexposure
Small doses of real-life news are really helpful. Large doses can have a negative effect as children can become fixated on a news story and repeatedly look at news coverage relating to it. To avoid overexposure, encourage them to discuss the news story with you once they have read about it. This provides a safe space for all of their questions.
- Let your children know they are safe
All children, even teenagers, want to know their parents can keep them safe. The best way to communicate safety is by talking about worrying news with open, confident, clear and truthful facts. Go through all the reasons that mean they are in a safe place rather than well-meaningly dismissing their feelings by telling them everything is fine.
Reassure them that you will look after them and do your best to keep them safe. They may be worried about who will look after you if something happens, so tell them about the support you have in place.
- Let them know that it is normal to be concerned
Try telling them that you also find events like this worrying. Let them know that you can balance these worries with the reality of them coming true. You would want them to leave this conversation realising that although bad things can happen, they don’t happen very often, so they do not need to be scared all the time.
Explain to your child what it means to be vulnerable. Vulnerability is not weakness. It's a natural response to experiencing uncertainty and risk and being emotionally exposed. You may feel vulnerable as a parent or carer in this conversation with your child. Try to acknowledge this and offer them lots of time for discussion and support from you.
You can also use this as an opportunity to teach children to grow into responsible citizens. Abiding by restrictions and laws means understanding that there is something bigger than individuals and that we should protect each other.
- Tailor the conversation to their age
All children have different temperaments and sensitivities. Their ability to understand the world and take in and react to bad news will depend on their age. If you have more than one child, you might want to talk about the news with them individually and tailor what you say to their needs and level.
- Find the right time to talk about it
It may be that your child starts asking questions about a news event at an inconvenient time. In this case, let them know you have heard them and think what they are asking is important. Tell them that you would like to talk with them about it later and invite them to remind you, so they know you really are interested.
- Leave lots of space for questions
It's common for children to have misunderstandings about traumatic events. Children tend to make up what they don’t know, which is often worse than reality. Encouraging them to ask lots of questions is important as it allows space for a truthful and open explanation to help correct these.
- Allow for repetition
Remember that children tend to repeat themselves when they are feeling uncertain or worried. They may need to ask the same question a number of times until they feel more reassured.
- Be as truthful as possible
When children ask a direct or tricky question, it can be tempting to avoid it by bending the truth. This can be unhelpful when they are talking to others about what happened. It's often more helpful to be as honest as possible. This is also true of questions when you don’t know the answer. Remember that it is okay not to know or to go away and find out and get back to them.
If you want to develop a personalised plan for supporting your mental health, you can visit Every Mind Matters, developed in collaboration with us.
If you need to talk confidentially, you can call Samaritans on 116 123 at any time. We also have information on how to get help for your mental health.
- the NSPCC has information on supporting children with special educational needs and disabilities. They also have advice for supporting children when someone dies
- Marie Curie has advice on talking to your child about death
- Childline’s Calm Zone has breathing exercises, activities, games and videos to help let go of stress
- Childline has advice to help with worries about the world, including coping with anxiety and looking after your mental health
- Young Minds has an A-Z of looking after your child's mental health, which covers feelings, behaviours, mental health conditions and life events