By Susan Kurlander, M.Ed.
Confused? Concerned? Curious? Conflicted? Many of us have experienced these feelings when hearing the news whether locally, nationally, or world-wide. Often it is difficult to make sense of what we are hearing and/or not react too emotionally. We frequently feel frustrated because there is seemingly so little we can do to change what needs to be changed. If we feel this way, how much more challenging is it for our children to make sense of what is going on around them?
As a focus of “Roots and Wings,” a JCS program offered to parents, the feelings mentioned above provide the most opportune times for teachable moments — when we can impart our values to our children. Children are most willing to listen to what we have to say or to look to us as role models when they feel confused, concerned, curious, or conflicted.
So how do we balance exposing our children to an oftentimes chaotic, frenetic, and frightening world that they may hear about in the news with a healthy, manageable learning experience that acknowledges the real world, but leaves our children feeling OK. Here are some suggestions to help you, the parent, maintain that balance with the most important guideline to be age appropriate in any interaction you have with your child:
- Limit exposure to what is appropriate for your child’s age. As much as possible, watch or listen to the news with your child. Limit repetitive graphic images.
- Follow your child’s lead. Find out what your child already knows about the event and listen when they share or indicate how much more they want or need to discuss.
- Answer questions honestly but briefly. Don’t over explain or share more than is necessary.
- Listen carefully. By giving your child the attention they need in that moment, you are sending a powerful message of caring.
- Don’t be afraid to say you don’t know an answer to your child’s question.
- Help your child feel in control by encouraging them to talk about why the story was in the news. At its best, talking may also help them to be part of the solution. An example might be to donate food to a shelter when there has been a natural disaster.
- Validate your child’s feelings. Let them know it is normal to feel the way they do. Be aware that your child may need more attention if the news event directly affects them or someone they know.
- Ask open ended questions. “How might you feel if that happened to you? If you lived near what happened?” “Why do you think the people who responded to what happened wanted to be involved/helpful?” “How would you explain what happened to someone who didn’t know about the situation?” “What might be something good that can happen as a result of something unfortunate happening?”
- Try to keep your child’s schedule as normal as possible. This will help them feel that their world is still secure in what may appear to be unstable and chaotic surroundings.
- Use a map or globe to locate places mentioned in the news.
- Encourage a fun activity to diffuse some of the intensity of what your child is seeing or hearing.
Most importantly, monitor your own anxiety. Keeping calm can be contagious and part of the teachable moments you wish to share.
One last thought I attribute to Mr. Rogers: “When something bad happens, focus on the good people, those who have helped someone else.”
Many suggestions come from Kids Health: How to Talk to Your Child about the News, Meghan T. Walls, PsyD, July 2020
Susan Kurlander, M.Ed. is a Health Educator at Jewish Community Services
JCS is a comprehensive human services organization providing a broad range of services that meet the diverse, multi-dimensional needs of individuals and families throughout Central Maryland. To learn more, visit jcsbalt.org or 410-466-9200.