How to talk to your children if they are disturbed by stories on the news

  • Children can be frightened or anxious about stories in the news, especially stories that involve children, such as recent stories about the plight of migrant children like those shown here playing soccer at a U.S. government holding center in Texas.

    Children can be frightened or anxious about stories in the news, especially stories that involve children, such as recent stories about the plight of migrant children like those shown here playing soccer at a U.S. government holding center in Texas. AP Photo/Eric Gay

  • Cece Horan

    Cece Horan

 
By Amita Health
Updated 7/28/2019 8:35 AM

Children can be frightened or anxious about stories in the news, especially stories that involve children, such as news about the treatment of migrants at the U.S. border with Mexico.

"We've had more and more kids, especially kids of Hispanic descent but also non-Hispanic kids, coming in very scared and concerned," said Cece Horan Psy.D., clinical director of child, adolescent and perinatal services and manager of the child partial hospitalization program at Amita Health Alexian Brothers Behavioral Health Hospital in Hoffman Estates.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The immediate reaction of many parents when their children are upset about things they see or hear on the news is to shield the children from unpleasant events. But Horan said that is impossible in this age of around-the-clock news -- and it is not the right approach.

Parents should acknowledge children's concerns, and help them to understand what's happening and navigate through their feelings as much as possible.

Of course, it is important to consider the child's age and temperament. Some children are more sensitive to sad or disturbing news, while others don't seem to notice.

But if your child seems interested in talking, Horan said, "Stick as close to the truth as you can."

She explained, "Parents often want to overly reassure their children. But it's not a safe world, and we're not helping our kids by saying. 'Everything's OK; don't worry about it.' We have a tendency to want to jump in and problem-solve and talk instead of listening. Encourage your kids to talk about what they are feeling."

And share with your children how you are feeling. If, for example, you also are disturbed by the news, tell them that and explain why.

Disturbing images can run on a loop on news channels, and watching too much of that loop is not good for kids or for adults.

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"But sitting down and watching news with your child can be very helpful, so that you have the opportunity to discuss it in real time, as your child is reacting," Horan said.

You also should counter stories about people behaving badly with stories about people being kind and doing good things.

"When there are happy news stories, point those out to your children," Horan said.

And when you are finished with a hard discussion, spend some time doing something fun with the child.

Finally, most kids are very action-oriented, and it can help to identify something age-appropriate that children could do to counterbalance disturbing things that are happening.

For example, they could volunteer at a soup kitchen or create gift bags for children in a nearby shelter or hospital. If they wanted to do something specifically for the children in the news, they could raise money -- for example, by having a lemonade stand -- for organizations that work with those children.

"Do something that your child can see as tangible and that gives him or her a measure of control," Horan said. Children often feel powerless to help people who need it, so work with your child to find something he or she can do to make a difference.

• Kids health is an ongoing series. This week's article is courtesy of Amita Health, which is comprised of 19 hospitals and more than 230 sites of care, including Amita Health Alexian Brothers Women & Children's Hospital, Hoffman Estates. Amita Health has 900 providers in its medical groups, more than 26,000 associates and 7,000 physician partners serving over six million residents in the greater Chicago area. For more information about Amita Health's programs, locations and services, visit www.amitahealth.org.

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