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Talking to your children about the news

Make understanding news a family activity. Photo: istockphoto.com

It seems lately every time I turn on the TV or check my news feeds on social media there is more bad news. If you are like I am, this can start to make you feel very anxious —from the fires, hurricanes, and earthquakes to Charlottesville and everything happening in Washington. With a 24/7 news cycle, it is getting harder to shield our kids from all this. Children today have more access to technology and so do their friends, which means there is a lot more out there they are hearing about. But for children, trying to make heads or tails of what is happening in the world today can be very confusing and even a little frightening. In our house lately we have been fielding a lot questions, such as what is a white supremacist or what exactly is a hurricane? Here are some tips to help you navigate the process of explaining some of the recent news events to your children.

KEEP IT SIMPLE

Two key things for parents with younger children who ask about current events is to keep your answers brief and honest. They aren’t looking for a whole history or science lesson, so in a few short sentences you can try to explain it in a way that makes sense for them.

It is also important to be reassuring. For events that happen farther away such as hurricanes, it can be reassuring for children to know those don’t happen in California and show them a map to see how far away they are. For events that hit a little closer to home such as earthquakes, reassuring them of your family’s safety plan and showing them your earthquake preparedness kit will help. Showing them these protective measures are in place will help them feel safe and secure.

In general, as parents we don’t want to scare them, but we do want to make them feel as though their questions and concerns are being addressed and validated.

MAKE IT AGE APPROPRIATE

Most experts recommend keeping news away from children younger than 7. This means turning the channel, not leaving news sites up on the computer or newspapers lying around for young eyes to see. I used to be a news producer, but since having kids I have stopped watching a lot of news, especially when they are around. The images can be too graphic or disturbing and can have a lasting emotional effect, especially if you have an extremely sensitive child. For older children, the Internet can be used as a tool if used appropriately.

Today, there are so many great websites and apps that break down current events in a way children can understand and those sites use appropriate video. Some of my favorites are newsela.com, scholastic.com, and ourlittleearth.com. These are all great resources for kids, but they are great to explore as a family, and you might even find that you learn a little something new, too.

TAKE ACTION

Sometimes all the bad news in the world can make us feel helpless or guilty. Children can have these same feelings, but no matter the age, every child loves to feel involved and to help out. We had several family members who decided to stay in their homes and brave hurricane Irma. My children knew we were worried and checking in on them, but it also served as a wonderful opportunity to talk about how communities can come together and help each other. We talked about ways we could help even though we were so far away — some of their ideas were collecting donations, raising money through a lemonade stand or a bake sale.

The recent weekend where the Patriot Prayer group was planning to hold a rally at Crissy Field also provided a great opportunity for our children to learn the importance of getting involved. As a family, we went to the Civic Center rally where the theme was love and understanding. They saw people all around them with signs and T-shirts standing up to hate.

There is news all around us — on the television, the radio, our computers, and our phones. It can be hard to escape, so as parents we need to be there to shield our kids some when possible. When not possible, we need to take the time to sit down with them, listen, and answer them. We also can help them make sense of all the information by not only focusing on the “bad stuff.” It can be very helpful to start a regular discussion about news events that include things other than death and disaster. Let’s hope there are a few more of the those stories soon.

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Liz Farrell is the mother of three young children. Formerly, she was a television producer in Washington, D.C. and in San Francisco. E-mail: liz@marinatimes.com