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How to talk to kids about difficult news

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Discussing Challenging News Stories With Kids

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TKN_logoKids are surrounded by news that is often scary-sounding. They see headlines, overhear snippets on the radio and TV and hear about news events from other kids.

Very often articles are scary for kids because news produced for adults typically leaves out information that may be reassuring because it is “understood.”

Adults tend to already know that information so it’s often not included in the news article. Kids, however, need to be reassured.

The ubiquity of the news is one of the reasons we started TeachingKidsNews.com (TKN).

Our goal is to bring the news to kids, but make it safe and kid-friendly.

Although TKN does sometimes cover non-violent but challenging stories (such as natural disasters), it is our policy not to cover “scary” stories—particularly ones involving violent crime.

That’s because we at TKN are not physically in front of the reader, who will certainly have questions that should be answered in person by a trusted adult.

For parents and teachers who are discussing challenging stories with students face-to-face, here are some suggestions:

  • “Back in” to a difficult news story. Start with background information, or even an anecdote, and lead up to the more challenging aspects.
  • Present challenging information briefly and factually, without embellishment.
  • Reassure kids by pointing out when an event is (if it’s truly the case):
  • -rare (ie, seldom happens or has never happened before and isn’t likely to happen again); or

    -not likely to happen again because the government (for example) has made changes to prevent it from occurring again.

  • Look for the hopeful angle. What good is coming out of this situation? Start with that.
  • Point out the helpers. With the Japanese tsunami story on TKN, we talked about the doctors and nurses who were helping to rebuild.
  • Talk about the future. When High Park’s children’s castle was destroyed by a fire, we looked to its rebuild by community volunteers who added new features to make it more interesting and more accessible to kids with physical challenges.
  • Parents and teachers, of course, will know their children and students best and make their own decisions about what is appropriate for them.

    With face-to-face conversations about the news, it often comes down to listening to the child, picking up on their cues, and asking them what they already know or want to know.

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