Tips for helping young children to cope with the news

It has been a heavy news week. Many of us are feeling the weight of our screens filled with stories and images of traumatic events from around the globe.

Our kids hear and see these things too—through social media, the TV and conversations between friends and adults. Here are some tips from Dr Anthea Rhodes to help you support young children to cope with news updates, and to protect them from potentially harmful images that can be difficult to navigate in our increasingly digital world.

  1. Limit your child’s exposure to news

We don’t always realise how much news our young children are exposed to. With the pandemic affecting our daily lives, parents are turning on the news and tuning into press conferences more than ever before. Remember, when the news is on your child may be watching or listening too. Consider catching up on the news at a time when your kids are in bed or occupied with something else. Or watch together with your child so you can explain things and talk about anything that might worry them. And it’s also okay to just check out or switch off from the news for a while—for you and your child.

  1. Have open and honest conversations

It helps to talk about news and what is happening. Listen to your child’s concerns and reassure them that they are safe. Try to explain topics in simple language without going into frightening detail and remember to allow your child to speak. It can be difficult for young children to understand distance and time. They may believe that they are under threat from something that is actually far away from them or very unlikely to affect them. Try to work out what they know and believe, so that you can help to put things in perspective for your child and reassure them honestly and appropriately.

  1. Keep an eye on behaviour and be tolerant

All children react differently to worrying news. Some children may not react, whereas others may become withdrawn, anxious and clingy. Others may become angry or aggressive. Sometimes stress can result in headaches or tummy-aches. Keep an eye on behaviour and be tolerant towards any changes. If your child seems to be giving you a hard time, it’s probably because they are having a hard time themselves. Try asking your child what they are thinking about or if they have any worries.

  1. Maintain routines and provide extra support

To provide a sense of normality, try to maintain your child’s routine, ensuring they get enough sleep and rest. If you reduce unknowns, you will reduce worries. This is incredibly difficult at the moment, with situations sometimes changing on a daily basis, but keeping the basics consistent will really help. Where possible, it can help to spend extra time together and give your kids an extra hug to help them feel safe and secure.

  1. Look after yourself and reach out for help when needed

One of the best things we can do to look after our children is to look after ourselves. Children will look to you to learn how to react. It can be helpful to de-stress as a family by getting out for some exercise, turning on some music or playing with the family pet. But these are incredibly difficult times and many of us are experiencing more stress and worry than ever before. Sometimes, no matter what you try, things can become overwhelming and it gets difficult to cope. Don’t hesitate to reach out for support for yourself or your child when needed. It can help to talk to your family, friends or a health care professional. There are also helpful resources available, such as:

  • Lifeline—13 11 14
  • Parentline—13 22 89
  • Kids Helpline—1800 55 1800
  • Nurse-on-call—1300 60 60 24

Local health services can also provide support, along with Kids HelplineBeyond Blue or Lifeline.

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