When The News Is Scary, What To Say To Kids

Posted by Laura Dimock on

Whether a school shooting or a deadly tornado, scary events in the news can leave parents struggling to know when--and how-- they should talk with their kids about it. Rosemarie Truglio of Sesame Workshop and Tara Conley, a media studies professor at Montclair State University, give us tips.

Here's a few things to keep in mind.

  • Limit their exposure to breaking news.
  • For the really big stories, pick a quiet moment and start the conversation by asking what kids have heard and how they're feeling.
  • Give facts and context: Let kids know that most scary news events are rare. Show them where it is happening on a map.  
  • When they ask why something happened, avoid labels like "bad guys."
  • Encourage kids to process the story through play, art, even video.
  • Take positive action together.



Thanks to Caroline Knorr of Common Sense Media, which has many resources for explaining the news to children. Forty-two percent of parents of young children told Common Sense Media in 2017 that the TV is on "always" or "most" of the time. Common Sense also surveyed kids aged 10-18 in 2017 and found 69 percent believe the news media has no idea about the experiences of people their age, and 63 percent say the news makes them afraid, angry or depressed.

Thanks to Dave Anderson of the Child Mind Institute, a nonprofit dedicated to children's mental health, which has a series of helpful articles on responding to traumatic events with children's psychological health in mind. Thanks also to Tara Powell at the University of Illinois and Joy Osofsky at Louisiana State University.

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