Blog Article

Talking with Your Grandchildren about Troubling News – Part 2

Written by Dr. Joannie DeBrito, Family Support Specialist

In Part 1 of this topic, we walked through facts about the news and principles about grandparenting and child development that you need to keep in mind when talking to kids about troubling news.

Now, here are some specific tips for helping them process their reactions when exposed to tragic images and events.

Children Under 4 Years

There is generally no reason for them to be exposed to traumatic images because they don’t possess the knowledge or skills to understand and process what they are hearing and seeing.

It is important to be careful not to talk about traumatic stories around them or allow them to catch a glimpse of something troubling on the news.

Sometimes young children, particularly those raised with several older siblings, hear or see things that confuse and scare them.

Typically they will respond in fear, cry, or ask “What is that?” or “What does that mean?”

It’s best to give a simple, age-appropriate answer, using just a few words or one sentence, and then assure the child that he/she is safe with you.

For example, you might say something such as, “That is a tornado, a strong wind” or “You’re safe from the wind in our house.”

Be truthful without instilling fear.

School-Age Children

Once children start school, they’ll hear stories from older students and may be exposed to images on phones, laptops, or computers.

Keep in mind that younger school children may not understand the concept of instant replays and may believe that each time an image is shown, it is happening again.

Be sure to talk with younger children about this, mentioning that the event happened only once and each replay is like watching a movie over and over.

Take the time to listen to their reports and concerns and correct any inaccuracies using simple, concrete language and providing contrasts to the mostly negative news: “Some people were hurt in a faraway country and many people were not hurt and are safe now.”

Older Children

As kids get older, they are able to more fully express their thoughts and feelings about some troubling news.

You can help them process their reactions by first listening carefully to them. Then ask open-ended questions, those that can’t be answered by a simple “yes” or “no” answer.

You might ask, “So how did you feel when you saw that video?”

After hearing the answer to that, you might say something such as, “Can you think of anything else you were feeling or thinking at the time?”

Once you have listened and asked some questions, you can share some insight and once again, offer reassurance of their current safety.

It is normal for older children to begin to relate to the pain and suffering of other kids as well as worry that they may experience the same pain, just because they are the same age.

So you could say something like, “Yes, she is your age and it’s really sad that she was hurt but that happened to her in another country where there is a war going on. There’s no reason to think that the same thing could happen here at this time. We’re not currently in a war with another country.”

Young Teens

Young teens are beginning to get much more abstract in their thinking, considering why tragic events happen and recognizing the damage that goes beyond just what is seen in the here and now.

Therefore, you can encourage them to explore their thoughts and concerns.

Also, the physical changes they experience as they go through puberty may make them feel their emotions more strongly so give them permission to express those emotions.

Help them cope via talking or participating in activities that provide an outlet for emotions.

Older Teens

Older teens are able to consider the long-term consequences of the images they see on the news and that awareness may cause them to feel more anxious about their own lives.

Kids at this age may start to feel depressed and hopeless about their futures as they realize that pain and suffering are a part of life and let go of the belief (common in younger children) that they are invincible.

So, it is especially important for parents and grandparents to give older teens permission to fully discuss their fears and then to provide some analysis and other perspectives to consider.

You might ask “What really impacts you about what you are hearing going on in Ukraine?” The great thing about talking with kids this age is that you can use their ability to analyze and reason to your advantage.

Acknowledge that their fears are rational in that it is possible that something similar could happen to them, and then provide fact-based information that shows that a similar situation that could harm them is not probable.

So, if your grandson sees images of a plane crash and begins to worry about an upcoming flight, you have to be honest that you can’t predict what may or may not happen, and then add that a person being involved in a plane crash is highly unlikely

Averaging the most recent statistics I found, it appears that the odds of dying in an accident or plane crash of a commercial airline are about 1 in 20 million.

When you learn that an average of 100,000 commercial airline flights move about 9 million people around the world every day and think about how rarely we hear about fatalities due to a commercial airline crash, that statistic is easy to understand.

Emerging Adults

Older teens and emerging adults are also in a great position to do something to help victims of a tragic event, and this can help them feel hopeful as they become a part of providing solutions for human suffering.

You might want to encourage your older grandchildren to consider how they might participate in providing aid to struggling people.

In age-appropriate language, be sure to share your observations from your life experience to provide a broader perspective for your grandchildren to understand troubling news.

The truth is that tragic events, natural disasters, wars, and human beings hurting one another are all things that have been going on since the beginning of time.

The difference now is that we have a global network that allows for the recording and broadcasting of images of tragic events all over the world 24/7, 365 days per year.

This makes it all the more important to work with your children to set healthy limits on how much time your grandchildren spend watching television or consuming news on other devices.

Conclusion

It is helpful for grandchildren to hear that, in your lifetime, many bad things have happened that have not touched you personally.

At the same time, talk with them about times when you were directly affected and tell them how you coped. Let them recognize you as a survivor.

This will help them recognize that if they are personally affected by a tragic event, there will be many resources to help them cope.

Once you have given your grandchildren an opportunity to talk about how they have been affected by troubling news, it’s time to offer a more balanced perspective of the world.

The truth is that on any given day, it is much more likely that nothing tragic will happen to the majority of people in the world.

A mall shooting on a specific day, somewhere in the US, that focuses on the death of 7 people fails to report that the majority of people who visited the nearly 120,000 shopping malls in the US on that day were not harmed.

Sensation sells and the fact that millions of people experience most of their days as fairly routine, predictable, and free from emergencies doesn’t make for generating the attention that individuals or news outlets are trying to capture when they post or broadcast images of traumatic events.

Finally, remember that talking with grandchildren about troubling news provides a wonderful opportunity for discipleship.

Remind them that suffering began when sin entered our world and that Jesus provided payment for our sins.

Read Romans 5:1-5 to help them see the hope we have to look forward to and how suffering in this life can help us develop patience and perseverance.

Pray with them for the peace that surpasses understanding and let them know that the next time they see or hear something that troubles them on the news, you can talk again.

Editor’s note: The Awana curriculum team also put together a lesson that anyone can use to help kids process the crisis. It could be quite useful for grandparents as well. You can find it here.

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