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How do I explain bad news to kids?

As parents, there comes a tough realisation that bad news will touch everyone’s life at some point – and that includes kids. Trying to hide this from children may increase their confusion and cause misunderstandings, or they may be aware something is amiss and ask difficult questions. 

It’s important to include them in these hard conversations sometimes and be honest with them about life’s realities. So how do we explain bad news headlines and bulletins to kids? Let’s take a look at some starting points. 

Knowing when to talk 

Some news stories may not need to be communicated to kids, especially very young children who easily confuse stories with reality and vice versa. Filter the coverage if you need to. However, for major news events, children may pick up on what has happened from other people and not necessarily newspaper headlines or reports on TV. Prepare yourself for them hearing about current affairs or events from other children or out and about, despite your best efforts.

Consider your child’s individual level of maturity and their temperament before broaching topics with them. Some children are natural worriers, while others more carefree. Sensitive children may need to be well protected from certain types of imagery or stories. Bear in mind that children may react strongly to images of other children in danger.

Guiding the conversation

It’s up to you as the parent to guide the conversation – but first listen to your child’s concerns to gauge where to start. Think carefully too about how you react to news stories and how that will affect your child’s perception of events. Reassure them that they, you and your family are safe. Keep it simple – don’t add to their confusion or get into unnecessary and potentially upsetting detail.

Taking positive steps

If there a big news story that you feel the need to explain, you could relate it back to the child and positive action by thinking of ideas to help. For example, could you raise money together? Could you write to a politician? Sign or even start a petition? Could you attend a meeting or march? Or maybe start a project with their class at school? If a child takes a strong interest in the news or a certain story, show them how they can get involved and make a difference – this will also help them feel less powerless.

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