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How to talk to children about the news

How to talk to children about the news

By Rhiane Kirkby

Three recent London terror attacks and a horrendous tower block fire—there’s been no escape from tragic news that’s all too close to home.

Whilst 24/7 news and social media means we learn more facts more quickly than ever before, it also brings us closer to the raw emotion and devastation being felt by all those involved.

It’s hard enough to process this constant stream of grief and anger as adults, but what about our children?  Should we allow them to see what’s going on? And if we do, how do we start to explain it, let alone make sense of it all?

Anna Bassi, editor of The Week Junior magazine, says shielding children from the news is an almost impossible task and a potentially detrimental one. She believes that while every parent has the right to decide what to tell their child, “you can’t wrap children up in blankets their whole lives.” In her experience, “children will hear things from their peers—often the distorted playground version—so it’s far better they hear things from their trusted source—you.”

Nicky Cox, editor of First News, agrees. “News isn’t as easy to escape as when we were young and the family sat down together to watch Newsround. It’s around us constantly and if we don’t talk directly to kids, we’re doing them a disservice.”

As a programme editor on Newsround it was my job to break news to children on a daily basis. Admittedly it wasn’t all as grim as the stories we’ve faced recently, but there were many difficult issues to deal with. The war in Afghanistan, the disappearance of Madeleine McCann, the terror attacks across Europe—the programme has never shied away from hard stories. Instead it tells its audience the truth in language they can understand, finds ways to minimise distress and always reassures children that events like these are extremely rare. It also makes a point of finding and focusing on the good in any story—the firefighters risking their own lives to save others, the children donating their belongings and the medics taking care of the injured. Simple but effective principles any parent can follow.

Ultimately a parent must decide what to tell their children and how to go about doing it, but Anna Bassi’s advice is this:

  • Be honest and don’t avoid the question. Refusing to talk about an issue can make the situation worse and the child more scared.
  • Tell them the facts and what they want or need to know, but don’t tell them everything. And don’t go into graphic detail.
  • Put stories into context to make them feel safe.
  • Reassure them and explain events like this are very rare and unlikely to affect any members of their family.
  • Don’t be afraid to use a trusted source of children’s news to help you.

This mirrors the advice of the NSPCC, who offer help and support to any adult who is worried about how a child is coping with difficult news. Contact them on 0800 800 5000 or at help@nspcc.org.uk.

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