Dr. Mona's Mom Blog

Discussing difficult world events with our children

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in a developmentally appropriate way!

We often times try to shield our children from difficult news or stories. The reality is, it’s important to know what to do or say if/when your child does come across a difficult news story.

Whether it’s at school or at home, if you have the news on or are visually affected by it; having conversations about difficult world events and big emotions is important for our kids to feel they have a safe space to turn to for any concerns. 

Ryaan is 27 months and we usually do not have the news on at home when he is awake. The other night, my dad was watching the news (he is visiting) and there was a mom crying as they described her being separated from her family in Ukraine. Ryaan is sensitive to crying and immediately started pointing to the TV saying, “Momma! Momma! Momma sad!” He ran to me and hugged me.

I explained to Ryaan that she is sad because she misses her family and that sometimes we get sad. I rubbed his back and gave him a hug. We turned off the news in case any more images were coming.

Then, once Ryaan went to sleep, I asked my dad in private to not watch the news while Ryaan is awake. It’s not that we want to shield him away from the realities of the world; it’s that he is two and he developmentally doesn’t need to see difficult images of war. 

But, how do we do discuss difficult world events with our children?

You don’t need to be an expert 

First, it’s important to remember that you do not need to know everything about everything you are watching on the news. You can do your best to educate yourself; but you are not required to become a political science expert to be able to be there and support your child emotionally. 

Process your emotions too and be honest about YOUR feelings 

It’s also important to process the news yourself. Images of war and difficult things are hard for kids to see, but they can be equally hard for many of us. I know that I personally have been emotionally affected by the events in Ukraine (and many world events) that it has made me sad. It’s important to recognize and accept that you may be emotionally affected too. And that’s okay!

Ask to gauge level of awareness  

Regardless of the age, ask your child what they already know or have seen or heard. There is no point putting thoughts or worries into their head, but it’s vital to know where they stand (perhaps from peers, you, or at school). In the case of Ryaan, he saw someone who was sad on the news and I explained to him that the mommy is sad. I didn’t go into details of the war because he is two and developmentally doesn’t need more than me recognizing that he sees the big feelings on media and he had them too. 

Avoid graphic images 

I know we as adults may have seen graphic images of war or tragedy on the news, but it is best to avoid purposely showing these to your children. A child can understand what’s going on without being shown a graphic image. If you have an older child (teenager) and you want them to see the news; you can pre-record it to filter out very graphic scenes OR co-watch together and discuss the images after (including feelings that may have come up). 

So what’s the developmentally appropriate time to talk about difficult world events?

Talking to young children (2-4 y/o)

  • Avoid the news
  • Speak to emotions (similar to what happened with Ryaan in the scenario). You don’t need to divulge so many details. For children who may be close to 4 and in school, their peers may discuss events so you can decide to give information to them. “Some people are hurt/leaving their homes far from here. I am feeling sad right now. It’s okay to sometimes be sad, but we are here for eachother.” 

Gradeschool to age 11 

  • Avoid news if you can or pre-record and filter out graphic images
  • Ask your child what they have heard and if they have any questions.
  • Open up a conversation about the event. If it is a major world event, they WILL learn about it and it’s best they hear about it from you. “There was a disaster far from here and many people were hurt. All the helpers are working to help everyone. Who are some of the helpers we can think of” The last question is a nod to Mr. Rogers who once said, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’” This is a way to show humanity in times of sadness. 
  • It’s okay to use real words. The goal is to be honest about what’s happened and be open to a healthy discussion.

Teenagers

  • They likely will see images on social media/from friends at school
  • Ask your child what they know and if they have any questions. They will likely have more questions (including in the case of war—more political questions that you can look up together). 
  • Always keep open communication of feelings/thoughts. You can be very direct in the words you use. No need to sugar-coat language because they are learning these real words everywhere. 

A giving mindset 

Your child may want to help in some way. Just like us adults, we may feel helpless on how to best help a large amount of people who are suffering. You can decide as a family if you want to support certain fundraising campaigns. But, you can also use this as a way of reminding your child on ways they can help spread kindness and help to our individual communities.  By focusing on service anywhere in the world, we make the world a better place by kindness and giving.

The final take-home on discussing difficult world events with our children:

You don’t have to always know what to say.

You don’t have to have all the answers. 

It isn’t our jobs as parents to know everything. If your child asks a question, on difficult world events, or any topic – and you don’t know the answer, you can say “I don’t know. Let’s look it up together” Or “I don’t know. I will learn about it and tell you tomorrow.” 

What IS useful is being honest about the facts, being honest about our feelings, and being open to discussing those feelings which can help everyone involved (not just our children).

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All information presented on this blog, my Instagram, and my podcast is for educational purposes and should not be taken as personal medical advice. These platforms are to educate and should not replace the medical judgment of a licensed healthcare provider who is evaluating a patient.

It is the responsibility of the guardian to seek appropriate medical attention when they are concerned about their child.

All opinions are my own and do not reflect the opinions of my employer or hospitals I may be affiliated with.