How to Help Your Kids Process Tragic News

How to Help Your Kids Process Tragic News

Understanding what kids of different ages need

By Focus on the Family Singapore | 8 April 2020

With the current COVID-19 pandemic and the fear, uncertainty and deaths, how are we helping our children navigate and process such news?

Here are some practical ways to keep in mind as you have open and honest conversations with your children about the hard facts of life (and death).

Minimise exposure to news. Most young kids have difficulty processing what they see and hear on the news. Many assume what they see is happening nearby – in their minds the world isn’t very big. For older kids who are receiving news on social media and via their friends, you can teach them to only read news from credible sources and not to revisit the same news, e.g., read about one sad story from multiple sources. Always have an open door policy to talk through whatever disturbs them from what they read on social media or the news.

Look at the events through your child’s eyes. Each child filters news differently according to his or her personality. Kids with more inhibited or anxious personalities may stay focused on worrying while others move toward thoughts of action or fixing. Taking time to understand how each child processes the news will help you craft your approach.

Pause and listen. Let your child ask questions. Put aside your own world to enter his as he tries to process information. If he feels anxious, reassure him. Don’t brush aside their emotions. Instead, help them identify it and manage it. If we dismiss their emotions, we lose a precious teaching moment.

Practise empathy. Developing empathy helps our kids grow up and expands their world. It’s part of understanding that our own selves and our families are not the centre of the world but there’s a bigger world outside of our home and many people live in different circumstances. Asking questions like “how do you think they may feel?” and leading it to action “Is there anything we could do to help?” helps our children not just feel empathy but learn to think of solutions and to play their part in the larger good.

How Can I Expect Kids of Different Ages to React?

Ages 0-3: Young children feed off emotions they perceive. Turn off the news, or if your family wants to watch and discuss the stories, do it when your very young child is sleeping or out of earshot.

Ages 4-8: Most kids this age quickly move on to whatever is happening in their own lives. They might ask if it will happen to them or if it happened at their school or even to their loved ones. Patiently respond to questions but don’t feel a need to give lots of details (unless they ask for something) and reassure them of their present safety. Add some safe and loving touches if they are anxious.

Older kids in this age group may react by play acting a superhero, attacking the “bad guys”. That’s healthy. You may even want to join in.

Ages 9-12: This age group also processes events according to their own world. They’ll wonder if this will happen to people close to them or themselves. News feeds are not helpful for this age group and can create anxiety or fascination with the stories.

Some kids, especially boys with more uninhibited personalities, may envision themselves being the hero and saving the world. Step into their imaginations with them as they try to resolve some of these issues.

Teens: This is where different personalities are especially evident —

  • Doers want to protest or create new laws or programmes.
  • Talkers want ongoing discussions about what happened and the possible core issues.
  • Thinkers process what they know about the tragedy and may form deep thoughts about solutions. This personality tends to be a bit more pessimistic and may make negative comments about the overall trustworthiness of people.
  • Peacemakers would love for everyone to get along. They could usually empathise with everyone involved and would avoid conflict and opinionated discussions.

Help your teen understand her own personality and how it affects her information processing. Encourage her to be open to other points of view.

What Can Teens Do?

Kids, especially teens, want to know what to do in response to a tragedy. Connect at the heart level and coach them to:

  • Become discerning consumers of media. We live in a culture saturated with powerful media messages in movies, TV shows, advertisements, the Internet and music.
    • How can we choose wisely and be smart consumers of media?
    • How can we better analyse and filter both overt and subtle messages that are constantly seeking to shape our hearts and minds?
  • Discuss what really is missing.
    • Is it more laws? Speeding is illegal, yet people still speed. Alcohol is illegal for minors, yet some still drink.
    • Did we end up in this situation because we were self-centred and did not consider the well-being of each other? Did we take government and medical advice too lightly for too long?
  • Discuss possible places where they can volunteer or help. There are many opportunities to participate in something beyond ourselves.
    • Are there old people staying alone, or the physically disabled in your HDB block or neighbourhood who need help with groceries?
    • Can your kids use their savings to buy a Grab delivery person a free meal every day?

This can be a great project to do as a family!

In processing tragic news and world calamities with our children, always retain a sense of empathy, calmness and empowerment. There are many things we can’t do and can’t change but we still have power to do some things. Help our kids see that.

Adapted from How to Help Your Kids Process Tragic News by Danny Huerta © 2018 All rights reserved. Used with permission from Focus on the Family.


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