There are a lot of scary, upsetting things happening in the world right now, and kids have a right to understand what’s going on. But how do we talk to them?
Twinkl, who aim to make learning accessible to all, have shared with us some great tips on how to talk to children about the state of the world to give you the confidence and support to chat things through with the little people in your life.
When there are upsetting events in the news or in the local community, children may see, hear or read things that cause them anxiety or distress. This may be from other children, on the news, from social media or from overhearing adults speak. In this digital age, we can’t always protect children from hearing distressing news but we can support them to understand and process the feelings they may experience in order to protect their mental health and wellbeing.
Here is some guidance for supporting children to understand and address questions or worries they may have.
Although there may be times when we cannot help children overhearing information that may be worrying or upsetting, if at all possible, try to avoid exposure to information that is not age appropriate. If children express any concerns about things they have heard or are aware of, make it clear you are here to support them and they are welcome to talk to you about anything they are worried about.
If children express any concerns or worries, make it clear that you are here to listen. If there isn’t opportunity immediately to provide the time and space they need to talk, make it clear that you will make time later, if possible agreeing when that time will be together. During discussions about worrying or upsetting events, demonstrate to children that you are giving the discussion your full attention by practising active listening. Processing distressing news can take time, particularly in an unfolding situation. Making yourself available shows them that their concerns are important to you. Acknowledge their emotions and let them know that however they are feeling is OK.
In light of a large-scale event, it can be helpful to lead a discussion so all children are able to share their concerns. Make sure you give them time and space to ask any questions they may have and encourage them to keep asking questions, whenever they have them, and no matter what they are. Answer any questions truthfully but be aware of the level of detail that is appropriate to the child’s age and stage of development. Don’t be afraid to say that you don’t know the answers to all of their questions. If tackling the topic in a group, carefully consider any children who may be directly impacted by the situation and those whose family context may affect their response. In addition, children who have previously experienced traumatic events in the past may be particularly sensitive to similar situations.
Beware of misinformation and teach children how to identify untrustworthy sources of news, such as social media and sensationalist ‘clickbait’ sites. Explain how to use trustworthy sites to find answers to questions you may be unsure of, explaining how you will find answers to any questions you may not be able to answer right away. If appropriate, model how to find trusted, age-appropriate sources of information.
Our Own State of Mind
Be aware of your own state of mind. Let children know that it is normal to be concerned about world events but even if you are yourself feeling worried about the situation, make sure that you reassure children that they are safe.
Putting big feelings such as worry, fear and sadness into words can be hard, especially for younger children. Giving children the skills and opportunity to express, manage and cope with uncomfortable feelings can be very empowering.
• Provide opportunities for children to express how they are feeling in a variety of ways, for example through music or art. Invite them to talk through their work but don’t feel you have to respond. Listen, thank them for sharing how they feel and reassure them that you are there for them should they need your support at any point.
• Teach children self-care techniques to manage their feelings, particularly if they are having trouble concentrating on other things. For example, switch off devices for a set time, read a favourite book, listen to music that makes them feel happy or relaxed, talk and play with friends and engage in activities they enjoy.
• Ask children to think of their own self-care strategies and support them in putting their ideas into action. If children are unsure, suggest a range of options for them to choose from. Developing their own self-care plan can help children feel in control of their emotions.
Feelings of helplessness in the face of global crises can feel overwhelming. Suggest ways that children can act to show their support, such as raising money for charity or writing to their MP. Taking action to make a positive difference can help children feel more in control in a situation that is out of their hands. This can help them to regulate their uncomfortable emotions. Remind the children that terrible events are rare and help them identify positive news stories, acts of human kindness and things they love about the world around them.
Recognise that not one type of response will fit all children. Observe carefully and listen as much as possible. Children often just want to feel heard and know you are there. Reassure them as much as you feel able and let them know you are in this together, that their reaction is normal and that they’re not alone in their thoughts and feelings, whatever they may be. Knowing that others may feel the same can be a huge comfort.
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