How to Talk to Your Child About Upsetting Events in the Media
April 30, 2022
Tips on How to Talk to Your Child About Upsetting Events in the Media
For Children of All Ages
Look for changes in their:
For Children Ages 3-6
Even at this age, your child responds to and notices your emotional state. It is okay to say you are upset and you are sad. Resist the urge to protect your child by saying, “Nothing, I am fine.” They notice your emotional state and this disconnect will be confusing to them. Try to be honest without being too detailed and steer clear of death or dying at this age.
For example, if talking about the war in Ukraine, talk about two countries fighting. “Why are they fighting?” You can respond with, “One country wants what the other country has.” Your child is likely to understand this because they deal with this dynamic all the time. If they are worried that a war might happen in their neighborhood or in their home, you can show them a map and show them the distance, the ocean in between, etc.
Validate what they are feeling is okay and bring their focus back to their safety. "Right now in this moment, I am with you and we are safe."
Play is not just fun! It is vital at this age. It is a container, an avenue for them to cope and to let all uncomfortable feelings out, to problem solve and process reality. If you are noticing themes of fighting or bad guys vs. good guys, these are all signs your child is working something out. You may get concerned, but it is better for this to come out in their play rather than reality.
For Children Ages 7-12
Ask open-ended questions. By doing this, you are teaching your child how to identify what it is they are really feeling. If you ask them, "Are you okay?" they will likely say yes even if it's not true. Try “What is going on in school?" or "What is everyone talking about?” Ask them questions that require them to formulate a longer answer. Children at this age are trying to navigate their independence so they might not be as forthcoming.
Respond with your feelings. If you are experiencing anxiety or tension in your body, they probably are too. It is okay to express this to them! Personalize your reply so you make a connection. Working towards strengthening this connection at this age establishes a safe and comfortable zone that will benefit your relationship in their soon-to-come teen years.
Play! Playing with you is probably more embarrassing for them now, but if you show them you can relax and have fun, kids will enjoy the movement and creativity. Find something you both can enjoy. If you are trying to paint with them and they’d rather be outside, suggest an outdoor activity you both enjoy. These activities allow kids to feel comfortable enough to let their guard down and be honest with you regarding how they are feeling. This is their comfort zone.
For Children Ages 13-18
At this age, independence is what they are looking for. They don’t want to listen to their parents. When talking about upsetting events, find out the source of their information. It could be a teacher or friend on Instagram. Try not to dismiss but ask questions from a curious and open-minded place.
Teens have a tendency to want to take care of their parents’ feelings. They recognize the stressors around being an adult and may want to avoid over-burdening you. They're more receptive to nuance than the previous age groups.
Existentialism may come up. Instead of trying to simplify your response to these feelings, have an open-ended conversation exploring who they are. Try not to dismiss them. Reply with something like, “I prefer to believe that things are going to work out because that is my philosophy on life. You don’t have to believe that but I choose to.” Facilitate self-reflection. “What are your beliefs about how the world works?”
Focus on what we have control over and how we can help. Encourage action if they show a desire. Try not to run to extremes with your reaction to upsetting events. Though they won’t admit it, you are modeling behavior for them. They are already aware of both extremes so try to find a middle ground where you hold both the good and the bad.
- Teens play too! For them, this is probably going out with friends or diving into a Netflix show. Give them the freedom to release.
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