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After 2020, there is no doubt that we are living in turbulent times. In the past 12 months, we have seen a pandemic put the world on hold, political tensions, protests, riots, a presidential election, environmental events, and so much more. Thinking about current events and learning to control emotions about them can be overwhelming and upsetting for adults, let alone children. While talking about the current state of the world with your kids may be uncomfortable, it is important for them to find out what is going on in the environment around them and it’s better that they hear it from you than from someone at school or on the Internet or TV.

Of course, bringing up tough conversations about current events is easier said than done. You want to make sure your child is informed, not scared, confused, or angry. This is why it’s important to look for the positive in whatever situation the world or community is facing. Mr. Rogers captured looking for the good in every circumstance with the famous quote “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”

Gauge Their Interest

To help control emotions, take a moment to recognize where your child's knowledge and emotional maturity are.

Before you dive right into discussing the current political climate or latest earthquake with your 6-year-old, take a moment to recognize where their knowledge and emotional maturity are. Try to gauge if they’ll understand what you’re explaining to them and be able to control emotions after you do. This usually depends on your child’s developmental stage. Generally, by the time kids are 7 or 8, they are starting to recognize that what is happening on the news is real. This is the age when you can start to ask your kids what they know about certain events and how they feel about them. If they’re in school, ask them if they’ve heard anything from classmates or teachers about what’s going on and ask if they have any questions for you. If your child doesn’t seem concerned or interested in a certain event, don’t push it! No need to worry them about events that don’t immediately impact them.

The Talk

When your child inevitably comes to you with questions about the latest wildfire or COVID-19, you’ll know it’s time to explain what’s going on. You’ll want to explain clearly and be there for them after to help them understand and control emotions that may arise after the tough news. Here are some tips to help explain current events:

Explain what happened – Answer any questions your child may have as honestly and simply as possible. Only share details that they need to know or will be interested in; too much information can be overwhelming and scary.

Give some context – According to Margret Nickels, Ph.D, for Education.com, children perceive events they see on TV as occurring close to them. So, every plane crash, overseas bombing, or tsunami is seen as happening right out their front door. Help your child understand where these events are taking place with a map or globe!

Minimize graphic images – Children do not always recognize that images or videos of current events are replaying clips, and instead comprehend them as happening as often as they are seeing them. For example, if your child sees footage of riots day after day, they may think that they are an everyday occurrence, even if it’s the same footage replaying on the news.

Help them cope – As a parent, your job is to not only explain current events, but to help your child control emotions that might arise with the upsetting or scary news. Encourage open communication and ask lots of questions about what they’re seeing, how they’re feeling, etc.

To help control emotions, encourage your child to look for the heroes.

“Look for the helpers” – Just like the Mr. Rogers quote, encourage your child to look for the good. In every disaster there are heroes — firefighters, police, doctors, volunteers, etc. Point out the good people and remind your child that they are there to make the scary situation better. Check out PBS Kids’ Daniel Tiger and his “Look for the Helpers” song to help your child make the connection.

Keep the Conversation Going

After the initial discussion, keep the conversation going with your child — if they’re still interested in the event in question. These tips may help your child to better understand the events you’re talking about and manage the emotions that may accompany the comprehension of the event.

Learn together – Taking the time to learn about the science or history of an event together can be fun and beneficial for your child! If they’re especially anxious about a flash flood they saw on TV, look up videos on what flash floods are and how they start.

Play time – Kids use play as a coping mechanism when they are stressed or scared, so don’t be worried if they start to reenact what they’re seeing on the screen. Encourage them to play nurse or firefighter or use their toy car to come to the rescue of their stuffed animal. Only intervene if this playtime becomes violent or aggressive.

Make a plan – Oftentimes, seeing a disaster on TV impacting families forces children to think about if it was their family in that situation, which may cause extra stress and anxiety. Explain your family’s plan for the scenario they’re concerned about.

Be a “helper” – Once you point out the helpers, tell your child that they can be helpers too! Tell them there are lots of ways to help — raising money, volunteering, raising awareness, etc., so that they can be a part of the solution.

It’s okay to not know – Your child is inevitably going to ask you a question that you don’t know the answer to, and that’s okay! You can tell your child you don’t know the answer, but that you will find out for them. The important part is to actually do the research and relay your findings to your child as you promised. This way they know they can trust you to help them find the answers and not turn somewhere else.

Finding coping strategies – Just as grownups need help to deal with the stress and anxiety of the current state of the world, kids need ways to cope too! Programs like HAPPÉ’s EFT Tapping is proven to reduce feelings of depression and anxiety by 40%, while Mission I’m Possible offers kids a fun way to control emotions and build relationships, even during these uncertain times.

Feel free to contact HAPPÉ with any comments or questions you may have. Generally, we respond to emails within two business days. And if you found this blog post interesting, please feel free to share it on your social media!