It came as a bit of a surprise. I was in the car with my 10 year old son when the radio station began to announce the news. My son leant forward and tapped off the radio. I looked at him and his answer came before I could ask, he said: I don’t like hearing about death.
News and current affairs are something more widely accessible by our children than before. Even the stalwart of children’s news, CBBC’s Newsround, gently delivers news stories of natural disasters or man-made atrocities and offers appropriate contact details if a child has been upset or disturbed by what they’ve seen.
Age & Stage
If you’re a parent who needs to still talk in terms of how many ‘sleeps’ away something is, it may be more than a challenge for a child to conceptualise countries, cultures and circumstances mentioned in the news. My preference is to respond to subjects they raise rather than feel the need to talk through specific news or current affairs. I can then develop that further by asking them what they understand. It’s quite useful to be led by their knowledge and interest in the subject, making corrections where appropriate than to dive into a subject yourself.
Naturally everyone’s threshold will vary for what news they feel is enough or age appropriate. Many parents prefer children are kept from seeing the the variety of the world’s brutality. But perhaps we can see this as an opportunity to research and discover what has been going on? This varies on the age and stage of the child, however if there is something they hear about and it effects them – it need not be solely upsetting news, it could equally be the Olympics – why not take the time to research around the subject? A bit of assisted learning along with researching is a massively important tool for children.
Or it may just be a case of talking with them to better understand what is effecting them. Even if they’ve misunderstood something, acknowledge their feelings giving them space to express themselves. In that way it is a useful chance for them to know it’s ok to be upset or show emotion in a healthy and supported way.
On the spot
However once I was reversing onto my driveway when the news came on. The lead story was of a woman who had received a prison sentence for killing her 4 year old daughter. Within seconds I got from my 7 year old from the back of the car, “Daddy, why did that woman kill her daughter?”. My head bowed to the steering wheel and under my breath let out a few expletives a la Hugh Grant in Four Weddings. I felt I needed to offer him an explanation. Before I could he’d bounded out of the car and was off playing.
At bedtime that evening he mentioned it again. We talked and I helped him process what he’d heard. I kept the explanation broad and helped him to understand that the mummy would have been very unwell. I may have done a poor job of relating the details however it seemed to satisfy his concern, and that was more my intention. To help him to begin comprehend the wider, deeper and at times darker world.