Written by Dr. Joannie DeBrito, Family Support Specialist
Over the past few years, there has been more bad news than normal: the pandemic, loss of many lives, riots, civil unrest, fires, floods, devastating tornadoes, the withdrawal from Afghanistan, and now Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Listening to the news can be disturbing to all of us, especially to children, pre-teens, teenagers, and emerging adults.
As grandparents, we can help our grandchildren make sense of the news and alleviate some of the fears that come with being exposed to disturbing stories and traumatic images.
In this first of two blogs, I want to share some facts about the news along with principles around grandparenting and child development. (Find Part 2 here)
This is important information to keep in mind when deciding how to respond to your grandchildren when they are troubled by the news.
In the second blog, I will provide specific tips for talking with your grandchildren.
Regarding the news, we need to be aware that:
- People get news from a variety of sources these days (primarily via video reports), many of which do not practice any censorship or warning about what is to be seen or heard.
- Professional news outlets will always lead their newscasts with the most sensational stories.
- In general, the news presents a very distorted view of daily living, focusing mostly on the negative aspects of human life rather than on the positive aspects or on the routine and mundane parts of life.
- One of the contributing factors to rising rates of depression, anxiety and suicide is overexposure to traumatic images. That exposure is on the rise, in part due to the availability of cell phones (many with high-definition cameras), coupled with the 24-hour news cycle that broadcasts images from all over the world at all times of the day.
Let’s look at a few principles about grandparenting and child development:
- Parents and grandparents of very young children need to provide protection and safety for them. As children grow and mature this becomes progressively less as they are able to protect themselves and learn how to be safe.
- In general, think of very basic information for young children while moving forward with progressively more specific information as children grow older.
- A child’s cognitive development progresses from an understanding of very concrete concepts to the ability to understand abstract concepts, analyze information, and use reasoning to make decisions. So remember, parents and grandparents, to provide guidance based on that development.
- Parents and grandparents need to recognize that children begin their lives with no control over their emotions and progress to being aware of their emotions. Then eventually they have some independent control over their emotions.
- We all have fears, some being rational, while others are irrational. In general, when children are young, they need to be protected from real things in life that are scary. While learning to cope with irrational fears, such as the fear of the monster under the bed or the fear of falling in the toilet when going to the bathroom, they will need to receive help from you, the parents, and grandparents.
- As kids get older, they do need to know that there are scary things going on in the world. We are there to teach them to recognize potential dangers and learn to protect themselves.
- We need to be mindful of the fact that we all have limits on how much bad news we can tolerate at once. Therefore, model and teach self-care by limiting exposure to traumatic events, especially when there is nothing we can do to change them.
- When talking with grandchildren, grandparents always need to adjust their interactions about emotionally charged topics with respect to a child’s emotional age rather than his or her chronological age. For example, a 7-year-old granddaughter may be less emotionally mature than her 5-year-old brother. In this case, it would be best to talk to the granddaughter as if she was 5 years old.
Remember John 16:33: “I [Jesus] have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world, you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
In preparation for the next blog on this topic, please review the information I have presented here and begin to consider how it may apply to your grandchildren.
That will prepare you for having meaningful discussions with them about troubling news they have seen, heard, or read about.