When The News Is Scary, What To Say To Kids
I it was the radio then television. And now the internet bringing news of the outside world into our homes way court, Cory what is this? I was pretty good, right? This this is life kit voice. I'm doing an old newsreel. Okay. Great. Well, we're talking about news in our homes. Right. Oh, yes. Yes. Yes. Okay. So we are. So yes, we are all taking a news all the time this crazy twenty four hour news cycle. But we don't always realize is that our children are often listening right alongside us. And sometimes it's not so great. I was really little during the Vietnam war. Alison aqua grew up in rural Louisiana. My dad was in favor of the war. And watching the news in the evening after work that we are closer to today is to believe in the face of the evidence, the Optimus who have been wrong in the patch. Allison says her mom didn't want her. Watching the daily drumbeat of Vietnam coverage. But the way that our house was set up. It was sort of impossible for me to completely miss it. I was just disallowed from like sitting down in front of the television and watching, and I think that my mom thought that she was doing a better job of protecting me from it. Then she actually was. The hidden certainly catch sort of glimpses of the film from the at Phnom. And just sort of words and one of those words confused and terrified her squad of US eighth. Cavalry is ambushed by an entire regiment of yet congress several hundred and the estimated two thousand guerrillas are slain the art of anti guerrilla warfare. I know I'm not the only one of my age group that had this happen that we heard the words guerrilla warfare. And we thought gorillas like apes, and I literally had a plan for where I would hide in my closet when the guerrillas came. I'm on your cabinets and NPR reporter and the mother of two girls. I'm Corey Turner and NPR reporter and the father of two boys, and you're listening to life kit for parents with sesame workshop, we help you answer the really tough questions that kids can throw away about things like death and race. And in this episode. How can we talk to our kids about really scary stuff in the news? Yeah. Because then our super wired world, we just can't protect them from hearing everything we'll have that. When we come back. Support for this NPR podcast and the following message. Come from Lincoln learning, which offers over thirteen thousand online courses to help you achieve your goals. You can take a course like managing stress, and you can learn from experts about the importance of mindfulness identifying your triggers, creating a nightly ritual for sleep avoiding burnout and much more Lincoln learning videos are short so you can fit in a morning lesson in kick off the day with a clear mind and life Kate listeners get a month of learning free. Start your free trial at Lincoln, learning dot com slash NPR. So Corey my formative scary news event as a kid was the challenger explosion. I was in kindergarten, and you know, in my memory, it was live in my classroom. I can't find out for sure if that was true. But I remember all the build up all the silent. And then seeing that light just go off in the middle of the blue sky and having no idea what had just happened. What was yours gray? I'm a little embarrassed by mind, but growing up in the mid west it was all about tornadoes in the spring and the summer, I I so vividly. Remember, my dad, always tuning into the local news, and the anytime, the scar sky would get even remotely dark and after a tornado struck again, it was like all the wall local news on TV with pictures of the destruction and stories of how many dead, and I just remember feeling so powerless. I don't think embarrassing at all. I mean, I grew up with hurricanes, and it's just this power that you have no way of understanding. And so for this episode. We also asked for your childhood memories of news events, and you'll hear them all the way through this episode. Like Allison, some are scary and summer just really out there, and like we always do on life kit for parents. We reached out to our partners at sesame workshop for this episode. We sat down with our old friend. Rosemary, truly oh. She is sesame senior vice. President of education and research. Listen, I've been working at sesame for a long time now. But when I go to the set and Elmo talks to me, I talked to Elmo he is real. We also got help from Tara Conley. She's a professor of communications and media at Montclair university. I'm not a parent full disclosure, but I am an auntie whether it's a tornado or a terrorist attack. Whether the kids heard about it on the internet or on the playground. We've got six takeaways to help you and the little people in your life make sense of a world that can feel really overwhelming. Yeah. Takeaway number one. We can't control the amount of information. We can control the amount of exposure Rosemary says for starters, try not to let your kids watch or listen or browse the news without you. And try not to stream it or leave it plan on the background all day long. Because my parents had twenty four hour news just kind of on around the house throughout the day. I observed more news as a child than I probably should have. Molly. Lewis is one of the many folks who share their story with us. She was six years old when the nineteen Ninety-six murder investigation of Jon Benet Ramsey was getting wall to wall coverage. Joe Ramsey, and I were pretty much exactly the same age. And I knew that murder was a thing. But I had assumed up to that point that murder was just a thing between adults and suddenly I was learning that children could also be murdered. And what's worse that could be murdered in their homes, potentially by someone that they very much trusted. My gosh. That is such a heavy thing for a six year old. Absolutely. And I mean, but it's going to happen. If kids spend too much time with content that's not meant for them. And I remember Corey a couple of years ago common sense media reported that forty two percent of parents of young children say the television is on always or most of the time in their home. Whether anyone's watching are not forty-two percent. Yeah. Yeah. Parents of kids under eight right? Yeah. And without realizing, right? So it's pretty common. So I. Rose Marie about this. So concrete -ly, should we not have news on in the background when our young winner? Kids young kids are around. I think that's probably a good rule of thumb because you can't control you can't control these breaking stories, which are always breaking. So that's priority number one. But what if you did your best and your child's still sees or over here something on the playground or online? Yeah. I mean, you and I both know when you get a little older, you cannot control everything they see in here. So something's gonna come up. It's going to upset them. They're going to have questions, and you're going to need to talk about it with them. Exactly. And then leads us to take away number two. When you do have that conversation with your child about something they've seen or heard that scared them, you need to begin by asking them what they know tear Conley. The media researcher says to choose a quiet moment when the phones are down the TV's off maybe on the way to school allowing them to have that space with their asking questions about what they're seeing. How they're feeling. What did they think? Who do? They think the story is talking about basically giving kids space to reflect. And she said this also gives them permission to bring up something that may really been bothering them. Also, asking what kids already know it's really important first step because anybody who has kids knows that kids often will develop these wild misconceptions when they don't know the full story. I mean, they have very little background knowledge in very little understanding of the wider world to help them here. Right. Like Allison Docker really warfare involved like hairy apes or the story from Emily pro cop from Connecticut, when the Monica Lewinsky scandal happened I sincerely thought the whole thing was in the news because she got a stain on her dress. I was terrified that any stain. I may get on my clothes would end up being the laughing stock of my middle school die still get an uneasy feeling when I'm at a party and spill anything on my dress. Wow. I feel so badly for Emily. That sounds kind of terrible. I mean, kids immagination are something else. And in some cases, what they make up can be even more upsetting than the truth. We have another example of this from Sarah, Linden Bom. She grew up in the early nineteen nineties in a small Illinois town and she remembers seeing news footage of tanks and fighting from the war in Bosnia. I remember huddling on the stairs feeling very scared because I did not have a sense of the geographic boundaries of the conflict. And so to me the possibility that something like that might come to central Illinois seemed, you know, pretty high to me I was probably about six or seven years old. But the fear that I felt sticks with me. So Allison had the same misconception too. And this is a really good moment to make the point that the bulk of the bad news the kids here about you know, likely is not happening literally in there. Backyards. Yeah. And so in these cases, rose Marie from sesame. She has a really simple suggestion. You could get a map you could you could see distance that it's not in their immediate in environment. And this brings us to our next takeaway when we're done asking questions to figure out what exactly kids do or don't know give them facts and context so in the sandy hook school shooting happened in two thousand twelve rosaries own son, Lucas was in elementary school. Then she didn't avoid the subject. She made it really clear with him. That children were killed by wanted him to see the faces of the children. I wanted him to understand what happened, but she also stayed calm. That's important. Yeah. And she didn't overload him with a lot of information. This. He needs to see all the gory details. No does he need to know of every event. That's happening. Absolutely. Not now as you hero. This need to keep one thing in mind, different kids are going to ask different questions, and they're also going to need really different things from us. That's exactly what I heard from Evan near man. He's an old acquaintance of I and actually who moved to parkland Florida a few years ago, and he lives there with his son and his daughter. His son turn eleven the day after the shooting at Marjory stoneman Douglas high school his daughters. Eight my daughter she wanted to talk about it. She was interested in hearing the stories of the victims. She wanted to play an active role and pudding stuffed animals and flowers on the ship Orioles and really talking it through and my son on the other hand, he didn't wanna talk about it very much. So give kids fact and context based on the questions, they're asking or your sense of what you think they need in the moment. You know, your kids best as you're doing that. There are some more reassuring things that you can say one we talked about the geographical thing that didn't work. So well for Evan, of course, since the event was right there in his backyard. But one thing Evan could do is remind his kids that even though this happened where they live this kind of a vent a school shooting is very rare. And after all, that's that's why it's in the news. Yeah. You know, Corey this is something I. Actually talked to my daughter Lulu about when she was just four. I don't remember what the horrifying event was that? She had heard about their so many. But I said to her you know, when there is stuff that happens. They put it on the news because it's unusual. And if you turn on the radio, you don't hear report about all the little girls who were sitting in their kitchen eating breakfast in their pajamas about to our list. I think we should report a story on a lot of little girl sitting in their kitchens eating pancakes. I think that would be great, especially since Tara Conley. The media researcher. She thinks this is all really helpful for kids. Make sure they understand that the media can't talk about everything, you know, journalists choose their stories and some stories they just don't choose to tell this is important not. Everybody's story gets told ask what messages are missing what's a mid from the story who did they not do you not hearing from? You're not hearing from. And who do you want to hear from you know, comments as media? We brought up before dated a survey. Say of children's perceptions, and they found that sixty nine percent of kids thought that the news did not capture their own experiences at all for people like them, really. Well, and one other thing that terrace it really struck me that we don't just want our kids to treat media like this. It's this window. We just look through. She wants kids to see the frame to help them. Again. Put all of this stuff in the context. Absolutely. So that takes care of the conversation about what exactly happened. But, you know, Corey the next question we're inevitably going to get his parents is why and that is take away number four when you're asked why something happened, especially something really tragic, violent, avoid, easy answers and focus on the helpers. Both of the kids at various points of ask. Why why did he do it, and they know his name, and yeah, you know, why did he do it? And there's obviously not a great answer for that. It's it's hard to explain Evan is still struggling to answer his children's questions about why the parkland shooting happened and Rosemary says we should resist the temptation to answer that why question by labeling people. I don't like talking about bad people bad guys, bad, guys, evil, guys. They there are people who do bad things there are people who do evil things horrific things. I don't like labeling people because I think that's overused. Maybe this person didn't get kindness and didn't get love and didn't get nurturing. So we can't figure it out all the time. That's basically what Evan and his wife settled on telling the kids the shooter was someone who wasn't well and needed help. But he says he doesn't explain it completely. I mean, let's be real nothing can truly explain away something so awful. And sometimes we don't have the answers to all of these wise, and it's really important for parents to say, I don't know why I don't know why this person chose to go into a church or a school and to shoot people. I don't know what. I want to sit with this first second Corey, I mean, it's a really good point. It's something we talked about in the death episode. Grownups. We would love to. But we don't always have to have all the answers. Oftentimes. That's when we get in trouble with our kids is when pretend to have answers that just aren't good. But Rosemary does have a strategy here. She says no matter how dark things get we as parents do have the ability to highlight the good. Yeah. This is the famous advice that Mr. Rogers said his mother gave him when something scary is happening. Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping yet rose Marie did this when she was talking to her son about sandy hook the shooting happened on a Friday. And she says she kept Lucas away from the TV all weekend. Lee didn't turn on the TV until President Obama spoke because wall nothing can fill the space of a lost child or loved one. All of us can extend a hand to those in need, and it was a memorial service. So once again, we focused on the positive how people were gathering and taking care of each other. Agrees with this especially when it's an event where young people are being targeted like a school shooting or police killing. She thinks it's empowering our natural instinct is to find those that are the intact in that story. But who are the ones around us that are actually helping us get through this who are the ones that you know, saved the lives of young people at that moment, that's where we should focus. There's even evidence that talking about helpers with kids really does make a difference in how they see their world after the Columbine school shooting in one thousand nine thousand nine sesame did a study of children's perceptions of the world through their drawings. There was a lot of a preoccupation of death. They would have a rest tombstones rest in peace kind of drawings. They would have guns and knives and dead people. But after the September eleventh attacks just two years later. Rosemary says media coverage was. Different. I think the news flipped it a little bit and talked a little bit more about the country is strong the country's coming together. We are United. We are going to get through this. And she says that this made a real difference for kids after nine eleven when we did the same study. They talked about heroes. They talked about helpers he could see this. Also in the drawings at the children made police officers firefighters American flags and this shift gets us directly to our next. Takeaway number five help kids process what's going on by encouraging them to tell their own version of the story. Children often try to make sense of what they see and hear in creative ways through art through play there on YouTube. They tell their own stories. They're practicing their own music, which I used to do a lot when I was a kid as well. I didn't have YouTube, but I did have a tape recorder. And I would go upstairs, and, you know, saying and be a pretend DJ, but all of that to say that, you know, the the notion of play. As part of reconstructing their own stories in there, and and disallowing for that to happen. So we've got a pretty crazy example of this. It was nineteen ninety five and Natalie van Belan, and her friend Joel who lived in Connecticut at the time, we're in second grade he'd come over to my house after school for play dates and would always want to enact the OJ Simpson trial. I remember lots of stuffed animals on our couches, I guess to give the effect of a full courtroom. And in retrospect, this is pretty terrible. But whenever our families cocker spaniel would enter the room Joel would say that that was the ghost of Nicole. Wow. I guess that's kids imaginations for ya as wild. As it sounds Tara says this is a core human animation. It also helps us make sense of the world around us is particularly when we're barred it with information, we adults do this too. In a way, I mean instead of physically acting something out or drawing a picture, we might retail new stories in conversation at the dinner. Table air. We be tweed or comment or steams? Yeah. Kids need to understand that is constructed. Well, what does that mean? Well, you can now construct your stories you could do a video you can make a new story. So Tara tells her students that have something they learn in their classes say about racism or sexism, something in the news of sets them. And I tell them I say hold that. Because at the end of semester, you're going to create something. And remember what you're feeling right now remember that jolt? Remember that question? And I want you to come back to it at the end of the semester. And I want you to make something from that. So our jobs are right in the middle of the news on yet. But even from that position, I find the most upsetting thing about reading. Or watching the news is like I said in my original story about the tornados just makes me feel powerless. Yeah. And I mean adults feel that way children feel even more powerless. That's just the nature of being a child. Sometimes. So we can encourage kids to respond creatively or our final. Takeaway. When there's something happening in the world that you're struggling to talk to your child about don't just talk about it take action. So at the beginning of this episode. We heard from Alison aqua about her memories and fears about the Vietnam war stuff, she just have overheard. And Allison is now a mom, and she takes a pretty different approach with her daughter. She just talks to her upfront about everything in the news like, you know, the Newtown version of gorilla vs. Guerrilla Allison adopted her daughter on our own from Ethiopia, and they now live in new. Orleans. My name is Deloitte, Bo Quan, and a de LA we spelled E D E L A W. I T right now a dealer we is eleven she was seven years old when Michael Brown was killed by police in Ferguson, Missouri. I just didn't know what to think it was just it was so scary for a lot of different people's lives. It was scary from wildlife, and I said when I processed stuff I just think about. Oh, my God could has happened to me. So she says then and in the year since then whenever something like that is happening. She and her mom follow a series of steps. He always tells me about something. And I always have come to process it. And then she says what I can do to help my myself to protect myself, and she always did not order, and then we go and protest a date later, and I was like talking to her about that. And she said she never noticed that she did that the media researcher says in talking with our children, we also have to show them how we're helping to and asking them, what do you how do you see yourself as a helper in these situations? In other words, don't just look for the helpers be the helpers. So for your family that might mean going to a peaceful rally or protests, like the ones do or raising money together for 'cause writing an elected official or if it's a natural disaster. Rosemary says taking action might mean involve. Your child in practical planning as a family we need to be prepared and need to put that emergency preparedness kit together, so at home to be practicing fire drills. So include your kid, and he's preparation include your child in the preparations that is key. Okay. So now it's time for a quick recap. I take away keep things on the need to know basis. Don't leave the TV on. Maybe I will turn off NPR more often. It's hard core. No it goes against all my instincts. Take we number two. When the time comes to talk with your kids about something scary in the news, pick a quiet moment and start by asking questions questions about what they're seeing how they're feeling. What did they think? Who do? They think the story is talking about takeaway number three give kids facts and context. Rosemary says lead with reassurance stuff, you know, events really far away. You can show them on a math Lord just point out that it's something really rare. That's happened. Tofu? Takeaway number four when you're asked. I do bad things happen. The especially when people are doing the bad things. Avoid easy answers in leaps and focused on the helpers talk about how they're. Good in the world is good in your community. There are people who care about you. There are people who keep you safe. I check away number five is encouraged kissed held her own version of a story kids need to understand that media's constructed. Well, what does that mean? Well, you can now construct your stories you could do a video you can make a new story. And finally takeaway number six when you're struggling to talk about something that's happening. Don't just talk about it. Find a way to take action with your kids. And that's all for this episode of life kit for parents. Thank you so much for listening special. Thanks to Kenneth j doco, Robin Goodman at Robin. Gurwitch Dave Anderson at the child mind institute Caroline, nor at common sense media, Tara Powell Joyo, soft ski, and of course, Rosemary, truly, oh and Lizzy Fishman and all of our friends at sesame workshop for more NPR life kit. Check out our other episodes in this guide. There's one about how to talk to your kids about toys. The may make you uncomfortable think machine guns or farting ninjas. If you like what you hear make sure to check out our other life kit guides that NPR dot org slash life. Get while you're there subscribe to our newsletter. So you don't miss anything. We've got more guides coming every month on all sorts of topics and here as always is a completely random tip this time from NPR's JC Howard. If you wanna reheat pizza in the microwave without the Chris getting all. Grossing chewy put a glass of water in the microwave with it, and it'll taste freshly baked if you've got a good tip or parenting challenge, you want us to explore please. Let us know Email us at life kit and NPR dot org. I'm Corey Turner. And I'm on your cabinets? Thanks for listening. Doodles. Ever listened to the news and wonder is there anything good happening out there? I'm Mindy Thomas from NPR's. Wow. In the world and each week, and I take you and your kids on wild adventures to explore the most wow worthy news stories on the planet. Find when the world an apple podcasts. Support for NPR and the following message. Come from Lincoln learning, which offers more than thirteen thousand online courses to help you achieve your goals. It's short video tutorials, cover business, tech and creative skills. Employers. Look for at every level all taught by experts and new courses are added every week. Plus Lincoln learning is personalized recommending courses based on your interests and life kit listeners get a month of learning free. Start your free trial at Lincoln, learning dot com slash NPR.