Talking to your child about world events

How to help your child when world events are frightening

When the world seems an uncertain place or world events are frightening, our children look to us for reassurance and advice. Sometimes knowing just what to share with them or how to answer their questions can be confusing for parents and carers and will depend very much on the age of your child or young person. We have prepared some tips and ideas which might help at times such as these. Scroll to the bottom of our page for our suggestions around talking to adolescents.

  • Be mindful of what news your child is watching or hearing and think about putting boundaries around this. Having the news on in the background, might be making your child feel more anxious about their own safety.
  • Be aware of conversations you are having at home when your children are within earshot and being mindful of what they may overhear. They will pick up your fears and anxieties easily.
  • When your child asks what is happening, it is always useful to find out what they know first. For example, it might be useful to think about the following:
      1. what they have heard and what they know already
      2. what they understand
      3. how they feel
      4. what are their fears and worries
      5. how you will support them and keep them safe
  • Be led by your child’s questions and do offer opportunities in the day for them to ask questions.
  • Always remain open and honest with your child, whilst keeping the information given at a level that is age appropriate. Perhaps begin with simple information as too much detail may overwhelm your child.
  • Older children will have information at their fingertips, so they may benefit from one-to-one time with you, to explain things and talk through what they have seen and heard on social media, the news, from friends or teachers. In contrast, much younger children will need to hear things from a more basic viewpoint. Don’t forget that you can allow the conversation to be led by your child’s questions and try to keep your answers age appropriate.
  • If you don’t know the answer to your child’s questions, be honest and let them know this. At the same time, you can pick up the feeling underneath the question and reflect this back to them, for example, “I am not sure of the answer to that, but I wonder whether underneath the question, you might be feeling worried right now”. You could follow this by reassuring them that they are safe, for example, “I do know that we are safe now and I wonder what we could do to help you feel safe when that question pops back into your head?”
  • Normalise and validate all feelings, which includes both your child’s feelings and your own. It is important that children feel supported in the conversation and their feelings and thoughts are not dismissed.
  • Take action. This can be a way to help the child feel part of the solution and can offer an age-appropriate focus for them, for example getting involved in fundraising, collecting some things to donate, writing letters to key people, or making pictures or posters about world peace.
  • Look after yourself in this. What happens in the world is affecting all of us. Make sure you are doing what you need to help you feel safe. This might be connecting with others or going out in nature. It is also worth being mindful of the amount of news that you are listening to yourself, as this may be increasing your levels of stress and worry.

How to support your adolescent or older child

  • Teenagers will have information at their fingertips. They may well be seeing and reading a lot of information online, on social media, from the news, and hearing information at school. It is therefore important that you keep communication open between you and your child, perhaps scheduling in some one-to-one time so you can have an uninterrupted conversation about what is happening, offering your support, helping them manage what might be going through their minds.
  • It is good to start with what they know and explore with them what their feelings and thoughts are about it all. This will allow you an understanding of their perspective on things. You can then talk through the facts with them, thinking things through together, and at the same time, helping them become aware that some of what they are reading may be fake news or misreported.
  • You don’t need to have all the answers, but being there for your child, trying to help them make sense of things will help them feel less isolated with their thoughts.
  • Allow them to express any feelings that they need to and let them know that these feelings are okay and make sense. In doing this, you can show them that you understand them and that their feelings are important and valid. Give them plenty of reassurance that you are there for them and that you will get through this together.
  • You could suggest to your teen that they could express some of their emotions through creativity, for example through art, writing, music or even song writing - whatever they feel drawn to.
  • Let your teen know that consuming large amounts of negative news isn’t helpful for them, and you could therefore perhaps think with them about minimising how often they are reading the news. You could suggest that instead, they check in with the news at certain times of the day for specific periods of time, and then try to focus on other, more nurturing things.
  • If your teen has their phone on alert for news messages coming in, this will increase their worry and anxiety. Perhaps encourage them to have these alerts turned off. Also, be mindful of whether your child has their phone with them at night as if they are checking news before they go to bed or even throughout the night, this will increase feelings of worry and anxiety. Perhaps instead, encourage them to listen to a mindfulness app before bedtime or maybe listen to some calming music.
  • Encourage your teen to plan some things that they enjoy doing. Perhaps you could both do some of these things together, for example; going for a walk, kicking a ball around or watching a comedy together, with the aim of bringing some positivity and balance into the day.
  • It would be beneficial to think about what sites your teen follows on social media, and to encourage them to try to minimise the sites that are showing more upsetting images and perhaps replace with sites that portray more positive news stories.
  • You could think with your child about how the media often focus on negativity, whereas there are many positive, beautiful things that are happening in the world on a daily basis that will never be reported.
  • Practise finding the ‘helpers’ with your teen, so rather than solely focusing on the bad events happening, see if you can find the people who are offering help and kindness to those who are suffering. You could point out how the good things that are happening, hugely outweigh the bad events.
  • Take action: this can be a way to help the young person feel part of the solution, for example getting involved in fundraising, collecting useful things to donate or writing letters to key people.
  • Look after yourself in this. What happens in the world is affecting all of us. Make sure you are doing what you need to help you feel safe. This might be connecting with others or going out in nature. It is also worth being mindful of the amount of news that you are listening to yourself, as this may be increasing your levels of stress and worry.