THE BLOG

How To Talk To Children Who Are Anxious About The News

03/11/2016 12:44

When we launched the UK's only newspaper for children, First News, (more than ten years ago in May 2006) we were ridiculed.

The adult media said, if there had been a need for a children's newspaper, there would already be one. Others commented that, even if the odd child or two were interested in the news, they would read it on the internet. This was the digital generation, after all!

When we started to have some success with our printed newspaper, there was still some scoffing. "Our readers were probably only reading the stories about animals or popstars," they said. I knew this wasn't true then. Today, it is even less so. The digital age has made the world a much smaller place and children are passionately engaged with what goes on in it - from climate change, to terrorism and, right now, the refugee crisis. I am convinced that, for the world to become a better place, the next generation needs to be better informed than the last.

As the responsible adults in children's lives, we need to be sure that they are getting accurate, impartial information that doesn't sensationalise or scaremonger. It needs to be truthful, yet reassuring.

Today, the NSPCC and ChildLine charity have said concerns about the state of the world - including, specifically, the US election - are driving a spike in calls to the helpline service. In the year to April 2016, ChildLine received 11,706 contacts - either by telephone or online - in which children mentioned anxiety, up 35 per cent on the previous year. The charity says it has also received significant numbers of calls in which children spoke of concerns related to the Brexit referendum while fears relating to terrorism are also highlighted.

With advances in technology, there is so much information literally at children's fingertips but, unfortunately, there is a lot of misinformation, too. That is where First News comes in... to decipher the fact from the fiction.

Therefore, that is unashamedly, (indeed, proudly) my first tip.

Read First News with your children. It talks to children honestly, and unpatronisingly, about national and international events. It helps them to make sense of the world in which they're growing up. First News gives the background to stories and puts them in context. The effect of this is that, nearly always, it makes even frightening news, less scary. Our stories are a really useful platform for parents, teachers and other caring adults to talk to the young people in their lives about the world and their place in it.

Don't shield children from the news. News is everywhere and it travels fast. Like us all, children will hear about news events on the radio, TV, through the web and they hear about them in the school playground, too. Children may know more than you realise, and this is what can be challenging. Stories can get distorted, confused when out of context, sensationalised or exaggerated. As a parent or grandparent it is almost impossible to censor which stories reach your child or gauge how they are interpreting them. But you can play a key role in helping children properly understand what is going on, and answer their questions.

Talk about the main news events on a regular basis. Children need to understand that there are lots of good and bad things going on around them but, in most cases, they don't directly impact on the child's day to day life. This puts the news into perspective and can make some events less frightening.

Avoid graphic details about worrying events, unless the child specifically asks. If they do ask, always answer honestly. They are probably asking because they have heard rumours already. It is always better to get worries and fears out into the open, rather than children bottling things up, and being frightened alone. Offer buckets of reassurance. Tell children that things are only in the news because they are unusual or rare events.

Discuss good news. There are thousands of good stories each week but they often get less attention in the adult media. Remind children that there are a lot more good people and good things happening in the world, than bad.

Remember that what is news is subjective. What is news to children may not always feel like news to you. It may be the next film release or match result. This is valuable knowledge and, if a child to feels up-to-date and informed, they have confidence to join in conversations with their peers.

Discuss stories which can inspire children. Explain how every single person has the power to make a difference in their lives, how they can be a force for change and for good. Empower children with the understanding that the future is in their hands. First News always says: "Children are 27% of the world's people but 100% of the future."

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