How do I talk to young kids about scary events in the news?

Discussing scary news with children under the age of 8 is challenging because they haven't yet developed abstract-thinking abilities. Their world is pretty much confined to their immediate families, close friends, and neighborhoods. But even small children notice when something bad happens in the news. And if you don't address it, your kids are likely to take away ideas that may be even more frightening than the truth.

Use simple, straightforward terms. Fortunately, preschoolers have short attention spans. You can very briefly explain the key points in kid-friendly language: "Someone hurt someone else."

Make them feel safe. Because preschoolers' worlds are so small and family-centric, even things that happened far away can make them feel insecure. So say, "It happened very far away and won't hurt us here."

Share news age-appropriately. Don't overtalk. Just state the basics clearly and try not to anticipate their questions. Kids are egocentric, so they might not be that concerned, or their perspective might be very different from yours.

Be aware of your reactions. Kids of all ages will absorb your reactions even more than your words. Strong emotions may upset small kids, and they may mistakenly believe they are at fault. Explain that you're upset about something you heard on the radio or on TV. Then, model healthy coping skills.

Hug it out. A little comfort -- a favorite toy, a hug, even snuggling on the couch with a book or a good TV show -- goes a long way.

If your child seems unusually affected by scary news, and your attempts to redirect conversations and encourage healthy coping skills aren't effective, you may want to consult your pediatrician or a mental health professional for advice. And if your family has been personally affected, the Child Mind Institute's guide, Helping Children Cope After a Traumatic Event, has more in-depth information about what to say to kids, what to look out for, and how to help.

The Child Mind Institute contributed to this article. Learn more at

Ask Our Experts
Was this answer helpful?
Sign in or sign up to share your thoughts


Teen, 13 years old written by ZackthePotato

Make sure your child is ready. Can they hear this information without becoming scared or upset? Make sure to tell them that it isn't their fault, if that is something that they commonly believe. Only talk about the news that they are going to be less upset hearing. If your child has accidentally stumbled upon one of these stories, make sure to explain things in a more kid-friendly manner. Although it may be easier for us to explain everything, we need to be empathetic of what the child just saw, especially if the article had upsetting photos. Tell your child simply that " somebody hurt someone else, then they hurt them back." If your child asks further questions, explain a little more contex, if you think that they are ready. Also, tell them that it won't happen here. Many children believe that if it happens somewhere else, it will happen here. Reassure them that that is not the case.