It’s been nearly impossible to avoid the topic of the earthquake and devistation in Haiti with my three little ones. I’ve always been reluctant to share scary, tragic news with my children because they are so very young; I haven’t wanted to fill their brains with nightmare material if I could avoid it. It’s hard enough for adults to fathom.
But because we read the newspaper daily, the images of suffering on the front pages of the paper for the last week have been difficult to hide. The photos are heartbreaking for anyone to see, let alone a 6, 4, and 2-year-old who might not understand the events.
Here’s the skinny on what I learned , thanks to PBS Parents. . .
- Talking with Kids About News, Age by Age:
Babies and Toddlers (0-2)— According to the site, “babies and toddlers should not be exposed to disturbing news.” And because of the fear little ones feel from loud noises, gun shots, and scenes sometimes found on the news, they suggest that parents “don’t subject them to news on tv.” Okay. Easy enough.
Preschoolers (3-5)— Children this age often mix up reality and fantasy and think that what’s happening on tv could be happening right there in their house. Parents should “shield preschoolers from news coverage of violent events whenever possible” and “avoid repeated viewings of the same event.” Makes total sense.
They say that “it is not necessary to discuss violent events on the news, unless you know your child has been exposed to them.” News “connected your preschooler’s life” is worth spending time talking about, though, like election news, weather, or something directly related to their day-to-day. Yes. Agree, agree, agree.
Asking preschoolers, “What do you know about that?” when they ask about an event and then clearing up misconceptions is the best idea. Diane Levine, PhD, suggests that parents don’t “over explain in ways that are not age-appropriate” but that they “clear up the confusion.”
Parents should explain that children are safe and do a lot of snuggling, loving, and listening to their children. Especially if these guys have had a hint of scary news, they’ll need some extra love.
School Age (6-8): This is a time for “limited media exposure and good follow-up discussions” because although children this age are beginning to understand that the world doesn’t revolve only around them, they still have a hard time understanding the space between the world and themselves.
It is recommended that school aged childrenn listen to the news rather than watch it and that parents should discuss important news with school aged children.
Do this by asking what he already knows about the event:
–Have people talked about the earthquake in Haiti?
-What have you heard about an earthquake in Haiti from your friends or teachers at school?
–What questions do you have about it?
And if he says he hasn’t heard anything, then say that you are always available to talk about it if he’d like or “describe the event in an age-appropriate way, depending on the circumstances.”
Like with younger children, parents are advised to assure children they are safe and not to over-correct or over-explain. They are then encouraged to follow the news and learn more about the topic if possible.
Older Kids (9-11)— This age group is still “me-focused” but is able to think more logically about the news and world events. Although they are better suited to handle difficult news stories, they still get confused and need careful, age-appropriate, clarification from parents. (See more relevant information on PBS’s site.)