Talking to children about distressing world events

As parents, we want nothing more than to protect our kids and make them feel happy, safe and care-free. In reality, it’s not always possible and the world often feels like a heavy place to be raising the next generation. It can be just as scary, confusing and unsettling for children who are often exposed incidentally to more distressing world news than we may realise (such as by overhearing/watching the news or adult conversations). It can be hard to know how to broach conversations about difficult world events with our children or answer their questions about it.

Here are some simple tips that may help:

  1. Be open to having tricky conversations with your children and create a safe space to talk.
  2. Find out what your child knows/ understands of a given situation and their thoughts and feelings around it before you share your own views.
  3. Be mindful of your child’s unintended exposure to distressing news footage and limit this in the child’s presence, where possible. If your child wants to find out more information, support them to find age appropriate and reliable news outlets, such as CBBC Newsround.
  4. It’s ok not to have all the answers and be honest with your child about that. E.g. By saying “that’s a very tough question and I don’t actually know the answer right now.” Suggest that you will try and find out the answer either on your own or together with your child and get back to them at an agreed point.
  5. Pick up the conversation again and check in with your child regularly about how they are feeling about the situation whilst reminding them that they are safe and you are there for them.
  6. Help your child to explore their feelings behind the situation being discussed and normalise their emotions and experiences around this. E.g. “It sounds like you’re feeling really upset about children being injured in the war. This is a normal reaction to have. I feel really sad about this too.”
  7. Stick to facts and keep your answers to their questions brief and age appropriate.
  8. Encourage your child to find any small positives in the situation at hand. E.g. discuss and look at examples of people’s kindness in responding to the crisis such as donations collected in your local community and research heroic acts and survivors stories.
  9. Together with your child, find some calming strategies that they can use when feeling particularly anxious, such as long baths, listening to relaxing music, breathing exercises, going for walks outside and doing enjoyable activities together. Talk to your child about what particular activities help them to feel more relaxed, as these may be different to your ideas.
  10. Help your child find ways to help in the situation. E.g. by contributing to a fundraising day at school, donating old clothes and toys to charity etc.

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