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A therapist’s guide for talking to your child about current events

Parent

Resilience

Relationships

Anxiety

Kid

July 3, 2024

Thanks to technology, we are living in a time of the never-ending news cycle where kids and teens are being increasingly bombarded with the headlines surrounding heavy topics like climate change, war, racial injustice, and election season. And while you can’t always protect them from difficult global issues, you can begin a conversation at home to foster a sense of connection and trust. 

The team at Bend is here to help you build healthy tech habits at home, validate your child’s experiences, and better understand what age and stage to introduce your kiddo to current events. 

How to talk about current events based on ages and stages 

We know that the thought of discussing difficult topics can be intimidating, but by opening up a dialogue surrounding current events in an age-appropriate way, you’re letting your child know that they can always come to you to talk about anything that might be on their mind. Here are some tips on how to do this based on age and development:

Talking to younger kids (up to age 10)

  • Stick to the facts. When a kid is younger, it is harder to understand the enormity of issues like war or climate change. That’s why, whenever possible, it’s best to stick to the facts. For example: “A war is happening and there are people who are in danger. However, we are safe here.” If they have follow-up questions, answer them with direct answers, but keep the message short and remind them that they are safe. If you don’t know the answer, it’s perfectly fine to say that you will get back to them and then take some time to gather the information and have a follow-up conversation. 
  • Listen. Kids may have thoughts and fears about big things that are happening in the world, so it’s best to set aside distractions, like buzzing phones, so that you can make eye contact and really hear and repeat back what they are experiencing.
  • Limit oversharing. As an adult, you may have your own values, and emotions about certain polarizing topics. Be cautious to stick to the facts and answer their specific questions.
  • Modes of expression. Not all kids may be able to express verbally what they are thinking, so it’s important to allow different modes of expression. Consider drawing or writing with them about their feelings.
  • Leave the door open. Tell your kid to come back to you when (not if) they have more emotions about the situation or questions. Using the word “when” gives them the opportunity to express their emotions more than “if.” Many kids may overhear things on the news or adults speaking about world events and may misperceive what is being said. Giving a kid the space to ask more questions when they come up is important.
  • Look out for triggers. For some kids who have experienced trauma or loss, discussing or hearing about heavy things may cause them to feel increasing fear or depression. If your child is withdrawn, depressed, not wanting to leave the house to go to school or be with friends, then this is a sign that seeking more help is important.

Talking to older kids (age 11 and up)

  • Ask for the facts. Older children may learn about complex topics, like political elections, at school, on social media, or through friends. However, there is a risk that they are exposed to misconceptions or sensationalized content. Start the conversation by asking what they know.
  • Learn together. If your kid is gathering news from social media or television and the images or narratives are disturbing, try your best to restrict certain content if possible. But if they are older and seek information through social media or news outlets, consider watching with them and encouraging them to ask questions. If you don’t know the answer, look it up from credible sources and learn together.
  • Encourage compassion and help. Your kid may know someone in their friend group or school who is affected by a global crisis. This is an opportunity to talk about how your kid can help by volunteering or donating to support families and make an impact. Being able to help not only helps other people, but it lets your kid experience what it’s like to actively make a difference.

Global issues such as racial injustice, divisive political campaigns, or climate change offer opportunities for open communication with your kid and a chance to bring families together to support one another. Of course, it is important to monitor your kid’s distress. If they show signs of depression, anxiety, increased stress, or difficulty functioning, consider seeking support from a mental health professional.

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