When a major news event occurs – natural disaster, financial turmoil, political scandal – kids get curious, and most often it’s up to parents to explain what’s going on. But this process catches many parents off guard. Most news stories are very complex, so how do you simplify them for kids? Furthermore, the news can be pretty scary, so should you leave out gruesome or disheartening details?
Before you can approach these kinds of questions, it’s first important to get into a routine where you and your kids discuss current events regularly. Think about what times of day might be appropriate to start this discussion – some time when your kids are alert, but looking for something to do.
Sometimes one event is all it takes to get your child interested. A local news story can be a good entry point because it allows your child to put abstract news into the context of their life. Are there any stories brewing on a local level you think your child might find enlightening?
Once you find a news event you think will interest your child, collect some articles about it from the internet or newspapers. Make sure it’s juicy stuff, preferably with a video or two, and try to seek out a news event that seems to be ongoing, such as the debates on fracking or gun control. If your kids need more information, help them find new sources. Take them to the library or even on a field trip – show them that you support their quest for knowledge.
What if some news stories go way over your kid’s head? Not to worry. There are many kid-friendly online news resources out there, such as Dogo, Time for Kids, and Scholastic. These resources specialize in taking complex news events and breaking them down in relatable and understandable ways. Let your child read these, you read the grownup stuff, and then the two of you can discuss.
When your kids get a bit older you can have even richer discussions about what certain issues mean to them, and how they think a given story is going to play out. But what about the darker side of the news? News stories of famine, genocide, and sectarian violence are never in short supply. Should you share these stories with your children? It depends on their age and maturity level, but eventually, yes. Your kids trust you as their confidant, the one with whom they can discuss anything. You can’t sugarcoat the dark stuff for them forever, but you can be there to discuss.
Lastly, be sure to encourage your kids to formulate their own opinions about current events. You don’t have to agree with them, but telling them there’s no room for their point of view is a sure way to snuff out their budding interest. If you continue to ask for your kids’ opinions, and keep challenging them to delve deeper into a story, before long your kids will be the ones filling you in about the subtle nuances of current events. That should be enough to make any parent proud!