It seems we can’t go more than a few weeks without switching on the news to hear about some inhumane suffering, sometimes caused by natural disaster, but all too often a result of man’s inhumanity to man.
With 24 hour news and social media reporting events faster than a speeding bullet, it is almost impossible to shield children from these atrocities and disasters.
This leaves many parents having to deal with children who have seen reports of these events and can be traumatised by them.
The best way to deal with children’s concerns is honest, simple answers to their questions without belittling their worries or exacerbating them.
It’s normally best to wait for children to ask you the questions but if you think that your child is really struggling with something and seems quiet and withdrawn, you may need to open up the conversation yourself so your child knows it’s ok to talk about it.
In the first case, when a child asks you questions about an horrific event, you want to achieve two things. First, to stop your child from worrying unnecessarily – young children don’t understand geography so they see something on the television, and to them it’s like it’s happening in their living room.
They don’t distinguish between something happening on the other side of the world and something that is happening next door. For them, it’s all coming into their world and it’s difficult for them to get any sense of perspective or context. So try and explain that these things aren’t directly going to affect them because they are ……. (a long way away etc).
Try and give children something concrete to relate it to so that they can understand how far away it is and that it’s not going to impact on them or their family.
Older children may ask more detail and they will need a more detailed answer – they will know if you’re fobbing them off and this will only add to their anxiety.
You also want to make sure they know that they are not responsible for these things – because young children are naturally egocentric, the can feel that everything that happens in the world relates to them in some way.
It’s important for their future mental health that they learn that they are not the centre of the universe and not responsible for things happening to other people – taking responsibility for themselves is important but learning to accept that they can’t control everything is vital and bizarrely more difficult to achieve with younger children as they tend to be the most egocentric.
To help children put these events in context, try talking-to them about every day things that they can’t control such as the weather.
If they don’t accept this, you could even ask them to try and control the weather and show them that they are not connected with world events and that their behaviour has no impact on whether it rains, blows a gale or is a beautifully sunny day.
In the second case, when your child is internalising things and withdrawing, it’s important that you make it clear that it’s ok to feel confused, upset, angry and scared.
You can try opening up a conversation with a comment on something in the news acknowledging how scary (or other emotion) you find this particular matter. By admitting that it affects you, your child will feel more able to express his or her emotions about the situation.
In all of these cases, the most important thing is to have honest, open communication so your children know that they can come to you with any fear, concerns or worries they have and that you will respect their feelings, not belittle them, and will be able to provide reassurance and help them manage their emotions.
If you have any specific questions, please contact us and our child development experts will be in touch.