How to talk to kids about scary world events, according to a local education leader

How to talk to kids about scary world events, according to a local education leader
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Presented by Charlotte Country Day School

All over the city, kids are starting back to school this week. And while the beginning of the school year is usually an exciting time, the 2017-2018 school year has started amid a complicated world landscape.

From tensions with North Korea to the violence at the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, it’s hard to check the news without seeing a new terrifying headline.

Could the swirl of stress and anxiety around these events follow your children into the classroom?

Adele Paynter, Head of Lower School at Charlotte Country Day School, says yes.

But talking about this stuff isn’t easy.

So she decided to share a few tips to consider when you’re deciding if, when, and how to talk about such events with your child.

Here’s what she had to say:

Talk to your kids but take care of yourself first

My teaching career started in September of 2001. I was a first grade teacher in DC when a plane taking off from National Airport made a sharp turn and hit the Pentagon. I remember that day vividly, and I remember even more vividly the response of our Head of School. He stood on the front steps, hugging and kindly turning away distraught parents. His message—we’ve got your kids; they are safe and happy. Now go take care of yourself and come back when you’re ready.

I’ve never forgotten that. Our children look directly to us in times of crisis and stress and our response becomes theirs. So, before you tackle talking about anything big, complicated, or scary with your child, think through it, edit it down to the essentials, and make sure you’re okay.

Treat children according to age

Children at different ages need different responses. For young children, relate larger issues to their own world, and make sure your child knows who they can go to if they ever feel unsafe. Also let them know your expectation for how they will treat others, resolve conflicts, etc. Picture books are a great entry point for these conversations.

For older children, you may read/watch a piece of the news with them and ask they how they feel/what they think. Remind them you’re there, even if they don’t want to talk, and help them discover actions they can do to effect change.

For all kids, ask them what they know first (this can help unearth misconceptions and give you a sense of what you will need to share) and answer their questions honestly but don’t overshare.

Turn the TV/radio off

When we listen to or watch the news 24/7, children actually feel like the events are happening over and over again, so it’s important to really limit their exposure.

Use the conversation as a jumping off point

World events give you an entry point into larger conversations about history, your family’s values, and your expectations for how they live in this world. Once you start talking, keep the conversation going.

Teach them where to get news

One of the most critical skills to teach children is how to be critical consumers of media. Use this as an opportunity to talk to them about what credible sources are, how to get a well-rounded perspective on an issue, and how to look for bias/perspective in reporting.

Remind them, whatever they see on social media isn’t always true.

Put something positive into the world

The best way to reduce anxiety is to remind our children that they have agency in the world. And the best way to refocus them is to have them put out something good into the world! Use it as an opportunity to do service, practice random acts of kindness, and empower them to make a change.

(This content was co-created with Charlotte Country Day School.)

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