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Although it can be tempting to try to shield your children from news they might find distressing or alarming, the reality is that whether or not you actively discuss current events and news with your kids, they’re bound to hear things anyway, whether at school, from friends, through social media or on television.

Discussing the news with your kids can also be a great teaching moment, because in addition to answering their questions, you can take the opportunity to teach them about fact-checking and how to make sure they are getting their news from the most reliable sources.

But how can you discuss distressing current events such as the coronavirus pandemic with children without causing them undue stress and anxiety?

Here are some tips on how to talk about news with your kids and how to help them understand current affairs while also addressing and easing their concerns.

Start by asking questions

Even if you haven’t discussed a particular piece of news with your kids and they don’t access the Internet on their own, chances are they’ve already overheard things. With this in mind, before you discuss a news story that might be confusing or alarming to a child, ask some questions to find out how much they already know and what their concerns might be.

Often-times kids will overhear snippets of a conversation or catch a glimpse of a news story without fully understanding it, which can cause them to draw incorrect conclusions or worry excessively. So it’s always a good idea to start by finding out what they already know or might be worried about so you can guide the conversation and help them understand the bigger picture.

Present them with clear and factual information

The most important thing when discussing the news with your kids is to present them with clear and factual information, even if you don’t have all the answers yourself. Children tend to fill in the blanks using their own imagination when something isn’t clear, and this can often be scarier than reality. With this in mind, simply providing your child with all the facts can already be reassuring.

How much detail you should go into will depend on your child’s age. For younger kids, a brief explanation of the situation along with some reassurances will usually be enough, whereas older kids will benefit from a more open discussion. You might even want to read or watch some news from reputable sources together and then discuss the situation.

Look for ways to provide context as well. For instance, if the news story relates to a different country or area, you can help your kids understand where it’s happening by using a map or globe. If a distressing event happened closer to home, you can remind them that events like these are rare.

Teach them how to fact check

Research shows that more children and teens are getting their news from social media. Unfortunately, a lack of emphasis on news media literacy education means many of them are still unsure how to tell a fake news story from a real news story.

With this in mind, if your kids are at an age where they access the news and social media on their own, it’s important to teach them how to verify whether the information they’re receiving from friends or on social media is accurate.

Try to balance negatives with positives

Much of the news we are shown online and on television is sensationalised or skewed towards the negative, because the simple truth is that the more shocking a story is, the more attention it tends to get. Knowing this, it’s important to look for the positives in every situation and try to present your children with a balanced viewpoint.

Are there any positives that could arise from the situation? Are there people or organisations working to resolve the situation and make things safer? Is there anything your family can do to stay safe or help out? Are there other positive news stories that aren’t getting as much attention?

Listen to their concerns without dismissing them

It’s easy to dismiss or minimise your child’s concerns without even realising by simply saying things like “Well let’s not worry about that,” or “Oh that would never happen.” But while this approach is well-intentioned, it’s unlikely to ease your children’s concerns and can even leave them feeling frustrated or misunderstood.

Instead, let them know that it’s perfectly normal for them to be concerned or sad and that you feel that way at times. Acknowledge that the situation is scary, but also reassure them by focusing on the measures that are being put in place to keep them safe or prevent similar situations from occurring in the future.

Do you talk about the news with your kids? What are your tips for discussing difficult or distressing news with kids? Leave a comment and let us know.

  • Be honest but age appropriate.

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  • We watch the news whilst having dinner so the kids are exposed to it and the eldest always asks questions to the point where you miss most of the news item! Good points on how to have a discussion.

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  • These are good pointers as they always seem to pick up things from school

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  • My kids are taking well to historical comparisons too – it seems to help them with the fact it’s not the end of the world.

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  • Personally I don’t even watch the news. I listen to the radio news when I’m driving and follow my local news on facebook but that’s about it.

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  • Very good points which I applied to my eight year old grandson regarding COVID. So now every time someone coughs or sneezes he yells at the top of his voice ‘CORONA!’

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  • This is a very welcoming article and now I know how to approach the news or basically anything with my boys. I used to say not to worry as it isn’t anywhere near us. Now I know better so thank you

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  • Yes, we look at the news as being ‘teaching moments’ to explain things in a simple way that my son will understand and to remove the ‘drama’ and ‘catastrophe’ from it; and to explain the difference between click baits and/or headlines that are supposed to grab you.

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  • My son enjoys watching the news with us. This a a great article, might help me explain some stuff to him when he has questions!

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  • My kids don’t have access to social media, so that’s one less source of misinformation. I do think that being available to them, and asking questions proactively, is important.

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  • Telling them in an age appropriate manner is so important. Agreed, they will hear things even if you try shielding them

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  • Great tips – and it’s important for children to be aware of the news as this carries through their whole lives. Thanks for the tips here.

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  • Another fan of BTN here. It’s so well presented and issues are reported in a way, so as not to induce fear. Well done ABC.

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  • Our kids watch BTN which is a great age appropriate source of news which they actually enjoy.

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  • I always talk about current situation only. Not every single details.

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