In today’s age of parenting, there’s no shortage of complicated and often distressing news, and with the media at the tips of our fingers constantly, that news is omnipresent – even when you have children around.
As a parent, you may be wondering how to address these tough subjects with your children, or whether you should address them at all. It can be challenging to find a balance between talking about hard things directly to help your children understand and cope, but also speaking to them in an age-appropriate and sensitive way.
Those of us with young children are also probably wondering how distressing news affects them; even if they have no idea what’s going on, they may be absorbing our own anxieties, overhearing conversations, or picking up bits and pieces from the news or on the playground.
While it may be tempting to sit down and talk to your child about what’s going on in the world, experts suggest a more subtle approach, particularly for toddlers and preschoolers. Most children this age are wrapped up in their own little world, and the best approach is to simply watch and listen, rather than proactively address anything that’s beyond their possible comprehension.
For elementary-aged children, experts recommend checking in with a simple age-appropriate question, and following up with truthful answers, and assurances about their safety.
No matter what age your child is, here’s a script on how (and if) to talk to your child about hard things:
1. Read Their Signs. While this issue may be weighing heavily on your mind, your toddler toddler or preschooler likely isn’t old enough to understand. Determine the necessity of sharing the news before you initiate any conversation.
2. Remain Calm. Remember that children are sensitive to both what and how you say something. Even very young children can pick up cues from the tone of the conversations you have with them.
3. Make time for a conversation. Try to keep it simple and direct. You can start by asking them what they know, and build from there.
4. If they are mostly unaware or unengaged… Change course to remind them that they are safe and loved.
5. If they’re aware or curious… Follow up with something like: “You are safe, the conflict is far away, and you can come talk to me anytime.”
Use Books as a Conversation Starter
Books are a wonderful starting point for beginning conversations with your child. To warm a child up to a book, try what we at Vivvi call a “picture walk.” Flip through the book without reading the words, and ask them questions about what they see. Picture walks are a simple way to start to get insight into what your child is thinking and bring up more challenging topics. If this sounds different from how you would normally read with your child, practice a picture walk with a book your family reads regularly, or pick a book your child is already fond of and go from there.
Books with Themes of Peace & Kindness
- The Peace Book by Todd Parr
- Have You Filled a Bucket Today by Carol McCloud
- Tomorrow I Will Be Kind by Jessica Hische
- What Kind of World Would It Be? by Angelina Schaffer Gauthier
Books with Themes of Global Awareness
- Somewhere In the World Right by Stacey Schuett
- I Like To Play by Marla Stewart Konrad
- If Kids Ran The World by Lee Dillon & Diane Dillon
Get Guidance on What’s Age-Appropriate
To help you navigate tricky conversations, we’ve put together a few articles just for parents.
- Explaining the News to Our Kids (Common Sense Media)
- Helping Kids Cope After a Traumatic Experience (Child Mind Institute)
- When You’re Lost for Words (Cooper Parenting)
Think Beyond the Conversation
Beyond having a conversation with your children, keep these tips in mind throughout the day:
- Pay attention to what your child sees or hears on the television or radio and consider reducing the amount of screen time while your child is awake. Images and words, even if they’re just in the background, can leave a lasting impression on a child.
- Use play as a prompt for conversations about feelings. Children’s play is often a lens into what they may be thinking.
- Always reiterate that your child is safe and loved, and that you are available any time they want to talk.
- And most importantly find some time each day for you. Even if it is just a few minutes each day to unwind and zone out from all the craziness. Besides the benefits for you, your child will also benefit from this gift you give yourself each day. When you take time to recharge you can be your best and will be better able to care for your child.