- Alcohol, Drugs, and Smoking
- Back to School
- Cellphone Parenting
- Character Strengths and Life Skills
- Cyberbullying, Haters, and Trolls
- Early Childhood
- Facebook, Instagram, and Social
- Learning with Technology
- Marketing to Kids
- Mental Health
- News and Media Literacy
- Privacy and Internet Safety
- Screen Time
- Sex, Gender, and Body Image
- Special Needs and Learning Difficulties
- Technology Addiction
- Violence in Media
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 childmind.org.