Helping Kids Through Hard Things

Watching the news from Uvalde, Texas last week was hard. Incomprehensible events can be difficult to process for adults – and talking about them with kids is not easy. Here are a few tips from the experts for helping kids handle difficult news.

Age-appropriate support and responses

0-7 Your kids will look to you to see how you are reacting. Staying calm and rational helps them do the same. Turn off the TV and keep your young children away from the news. This includes avoiding adult conversation about the event while children are in the room.

Even very young children, who appear to be busy doing something else, can often be more aware of what they are hearing in the background than you realize. 

Says one young mother, “He was two and I thought he wasn’t paying attention as I listened to NPR in the room with him. Suddenly he says, “They said puzzle. I have a puzzle.” It was at that moment she realized that even though he was just two, he was hearing and being affected by the news in the background.

Keeping children away from media broadcasts is valuable in two ways. 

It gives parents time to fully understand what has happened, process their own emotions about it, and make decisions about how to answer questions their children will have. 

It also protects them from breaking news, which can contain incomplete or inaccurate information. 

When you have all the facts and have had time to think through your own response, you are better prepared to help their children cope.

Children want to know they are safe and cared for. When talking with them about difficult news stories, encourage them to talk about their fears. Reassure them that you are taking care of them and will keep them safe.

7-12 Older children continue to need reassurance that they are cared for and protected. Consider their maturity level when deciding how to talk about frightening news. Many children of this age can handle hard topics, but if your child is sensitive, consider following the advice for younger children – turn off the news and provide reassurance that they are safe with you.

Common Sense Media offers the following advice for this age group, “Talk about — and filter — news coverage. You might explain that even news programs compete for viewers, which sometimes affects content decisions. If you let your kids use the internet, go online with them. Some of the pictures posted are simply grisly. Monitor where your kids are going, and set your URLs to open to non-news-based portals.”

12 and up Teenagers will likely be exposed to the news in much the same way you hare – through their social networks or news stories that come across the media they are consuming. 

Since they will likely have heard about it independently, check in with them – invite them to express themselves and share their reaction to the news. Listen actively and address their concerns without minimizing or dismissing them. Take the opportunity to provide your take on things.

Teens may be eager to take action. Research ways you can do this together. Write letters to elected officials, attend peaceful rallys or protests, or make donations to support causes you believe in. Taking action can help reduce a child’s anxiety. 

Take care of yourself

As you work through your own emotions about the event, remember to take care of yourself as well. Take regular breaks from your exposure to media coverage to avoid becoming overwhelmed. 

Allow yourself time to do things you enjoy and reduce anxiety by keeping up with your normal routine, which will help you process both the emotional and physical effects of traumatic news events.

Traumatic events, even those far from home, affect us all. Give yourself and your children time and space to process the emotions that come up. A little extra togetherness, doing something you both love, could be just the thing.