We’re Surrounded by Scary News – How Do We Help Our Kids Process It?

If you’re a parent, grandparent, or caregiver, you know it can be a frightening time to raise children.

Although there have always been dangers out there, we now live in a world of constant information overload and instantaneous media coverage.

So what’s the best approach for helping our kids when they are surrounded by scary news stories?

It seems nearly every day, there are stories about murder and crime, terrorism and violence, accidents and natural disasters.

These can all be extremely scary for kids, and the younger they are, the more frightened they can become because they have no context in which to place their fears.

Young children have little concept of the frequency or location of danger that is reported on the news and may feel like there are threats looming right outside your door.

We all know that we should limit our kids’ time in front of the television and smart devices, but in reality, we can’t be around to shelter them from seeing something they shouldn’t every moment of the day.

And in many homes, it’s common practice to have the television, radio, or computer on at all times.  It seems that’s just part of daily life in the 21st century.

But limiting our kids’ exposure and being present when the television is on in our homes is very important, in case they have questions or are frightened by something they may overhear.

There are a couple of other things we can do as parents to help our kids deal with scary events broadcast by the media.

For violent events, natural disasters, and other frightening things that they may overhear on the news, it helps to sit down and discuss that – even though they may appear to be daily events – these things don’t happen on a regular basis.

It may also be helpful, especially for preschoolers and younger schoolchildren, to show them on a map where the particular news event occurred, pointing out that it happened very far away from your home.

Or, if there is a crime or natural disaster close to home, reassure them that your job is keeping them safe in every way possible and that it is unlikely that they will be affected by something of that nature.

Events like these are broadcast on the news for the primary reason that they are rare, so emphasize that point.

Let them ask questions, and be honest with your answers, but also aware of how much information to give them based on their age.

Make sure that the information they’re seeing or hearing (this is very important when they’re in school or picking up “information” from friends) is accurate.

Rumors and false information spread just as quickly as facts – sometimes more quickly — so make sure that is part of your discussion.  “Who told you this?”, “Where did you hear or see this story?” and similar questions will help you to understand their feelings.

Putting frightening current events into the context of history is also important.  

Things may seem more dire to us these days than in the past, but there has been crime and tragedy throughout history.  The big difference now is the instant access to information and constant communication at all hours of the day.

Try to avoid making verbal judgments about your take on frightening events – again, “just the facts” – because your emotions like anger, fear, or resentment will be picked up on by your children.

If they ask, “Why do bad things like this happen?” explain that sometimes people make bad choices because they are scared or angry.  

And sometimes, it’s ok to tell your kids that there are times we just don’t understand why certain things happen.  

This can be a good opportunity to remind them of your faith.

The crucial thing is that they know you – and all the people entrusted with their care — will always try to keep them safe from harm.   

Make sure to acknowledge their feelings, discuss them at length, and always be available and interested in their feelings and questions.

Finally, positive role models are the best form of support for children’s fears when bad things happen in the world.

Be sure to point out the response from police, firefighters, good Samaritans, and other local heroes who always seem to help when there is a tragedy.  

Focus on the good, but don’t ignore or dismiss your child’s concerns.  

And sometimes, the best thing to do is empathize by letting them know these events make you feel bad, too, but that you will always be there for each other.

Family and faith are key to giving our kids a realistic perspective when there seems to be scary news all around us.